Author Archive

Ross Brighton on Guyotat

by on Aug.18, 2013

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[Here’s the first part of an excellent essay by Ross Brighton about the the great French writer Pierre Guyotat. I think it relates quite a bit to the recent discussion about Johan Jonsson…]

Pierre Guyotat’s Eden Eden Eden as Deleuzian War Machine

Pierre Guyotat is the quintessential outsider, profoundly other to the conventional idea of the writer or novelist. His progenitors are Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade and Jean Genet – De Sade’s dispassionate, literal descriptions of sexual depravity; Genet’s ambiguous morality and dream-like traversals of places with real names, yet which seem to be no place at all. Both of these precursors were also outsiders, who spent large periods of time incarcerated, and Guyotat’s experience mirrors this in his experience during the Algerian War, where, after inciting Algerian conscripts to desert, he was imprisoned in a hole in the ground for three months, during which he survived on scraps and scribbled on an illicit piece of paper he managed to hide. As Roger Clarke says, “the link with De Sade, scribbling away in the Bastille, is unavoidable”. Clarke also points out the African connection with Genet and Arthur Rimbaud.

The network produced by and containing both Guyotat and his writing can be conceptualised (though not territorialised) using the framework of Deleuze and Guattari. Guyotat is (as are all bodies) a desiring machine, and a writing machine, but also a war machine operating outside of and in opposition to ‘the state of the novel’, utilising writing as a weapon for the production of radical affective experience. The flows that pass between writer and text, through its production, and from text to reader can be mapped. The parts of this assemblage can be characterised as machines, and described in terms of functionality, culminating in the reader as textual consumer and thus affective machine.

Everything is machines. Continue reading “Ross Brighton on Guyotat” »

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"the beauty of the act": Pop Corpse and Haute Surveillance

by on Aug.05, 2013

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All profoundly original art looks ugly at first     — Clement Greenberg

Two books I’ve been reading and rereading this summer have been Johannes Göransson’s Haute Surveillance and Lara Glenum’s Pop Corpse, and in many ways the two books go together. They share certain sympathies, certain styles. If they were movies, they would make a great double-feature. In Memphis, there’s a porn theater, a decaying relic from the 70s, called Paris Theater. It brought in a diverse clientele because of its location between an “artsy” neighborhood and a “bad” neighborhood: crack addicts, tattoo artists, philosophy and English and art students, skinny junkies, and young punk couples. I can imagine such a double-feature playing at exactly such a place.

They are both truly hybrid works, not simply a “hybrid” of different schools of poetry. Glenum’s Pop Corpse brings to mind some of the more daring elements of the art world: Cindy Sherman’s Gothic, carnival-esque works, Paul Thek’s meatiness, Matthew Barney’s monumentality, the high-wire acts of certain performance artists (Marina Abramovic, the Russian Voina group), Paul McCarthy’s sense of bizarre, repulsive hilarity. In fact, Glenum’s blend of excess and theatricality is closer in spirit to certain sections of the art world than to much of the contemporary American poetry scene, and I can’t help but suspect that admirers of Thek and/or Sherman and/or McCarthy would understand her work better than some of the her fellow experimental poets (some who, because she so thoroughly does not fit into the currently dominant Language Writing /Flarf/Conceptual mode, simply don’t know how to approach her work).

Like many of those artists mentioned above, there is an element of creative ecstasy in Pop Corpse, and, like them, it’s an ecstasy laced with horror and confusion. As the Sea Witch says, “I perch on heaven / habitually / Pig-sized / nipples.” The entire poem/play takes place on “floating islands of garbage” — the “floating islands” implying a beauty and serenity that “garbage” brutally undercuts.

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Haute Surveillance is also hybrid. It is infused with film both in style (montage, tableaux) and reference (Blue Velvet, The Wizard of Oz, mumble-core, the character of “the Starlet”). The spirit of Lynch and Godard and Zulawski especially haunt this work, directors who create films that steadfastly refuse to offer us a privileged bird’s eye view of their projects — directors who immerse us in a world, not offer one up as a representational object. Weekend, Made in USA, Inland Empire, Mulholland Drive, Szamanka, On the Silver Globe: these are films that don’t allow for the luxury (and it is a luxury) of distance. So too with Göransson’s book. “Of all the movies I made with the Starlet,” the narrator says, “my favorite was our mumble-version of Hiroshima Mon Amour. Or the Jacobean piece we filmed in a shooting range. The clothes I wore were positively repulsive by the time she was finished with me.”

Of course, Göransson follows a long line of poets who have been fascinated by film. Frank O’Hara is the most obvious example of a poet engaged with the silver screen (or, in our age, the digital screen). And Artaud loved the Marx brothers. But in the past few decades a serious vein of cinemaphobia has crept into the American poetry scene. Part of this is the influence of Language writing. Despite its revolutionary ardor, it had a surprisingly conservative take on the Image, considering it to be empty, false, hollow, a lie. (There were several exceptions to this view: Palmer, Hejinian, Waldrop, etc.) It’s a view that goes all the way back to Plato, at least, as can be seen in the allegory of the cave where concept is plentitude and beings and images are shadows and falsehoods.

Related to this austerity is poetry written in the more mainstream, lyrical mode. As Göransson has pointed out in various blog posts and interviews, and as I’ve heard several others poets claim too through the years, in some workshops an image must be “earned.” It must fit in with the general pattern and be conducive of an overall meaning. Interestingly, the austerity policies of certain Language poets and the fear of inflation in less experimental poetry have more than a little in common.

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But an alternate take on the Image sees it not as a false representation of a real object or event, but a new creation, an addition. This is the view of the Stoics, Deleuze, Warhol (as implied by his “Factory” of images), Godard (“cinema is everything”), and Lewis Carroll. Göransson shares this approach. As the narrator writes, “Ever since I was brought to this goo-goo nation, I’ve trafficked in images. About photography, I love the machinery. I can’t understand any of it. It’s like the inside of a woman’s cunt: fascinating and intricate. And gives birth to millions of childrenchildren.” Here, image is a multiplier, not a shadow-play for dupes.

As the influence Language writing wanes, I suspect that this cinemaphobia will drift away. One of the most thrilling books of poetry last year was Lina ramona Vitkauskas’s Neon Tryst, a collection very different from Göransson’s, but which is also evocative of the spectral, haunting dimension of film. And Rauan Klassnik, one of the most brilliant poets around today, writes poetry that appears to be highly informed by the language of cinema, with odd edits, mini-narratives, and a materialist religiosity that seems to stem as much from Pasolini and Buñuel as Bataille.

There is another link between Glenum and Göransson’s two new books, and that is how they are both books about events. While reading them, I kept thinking back on Monsieur Oscar in Leos Carax’s Holy Motors. When the metaphysical performer is asked why he goes on, he answers that it is because of the “beauty of the act.” Both of these books are filled with beautiful (and horrific, and startling) acts, and these acts are related to art-making, art-construction.

As the Smear says in Pop Corpse, “I make a spasmatic pose for the penal colony. I wear a gas mask for the finale. The tourists are allowed to take my photographs if they offer me some food.” And as the narrator in Haute Surveillance writes, “Together we are working in a new medium: sweat clothes. We’re interested in mediumicity. In one sweat cloth we see an image of an artist’s body after a car crash: all ornamental. In another we see a dark lady who may be our lady of the video malaise.” These books are from the Warholian Factory. And because they are books of action and event, they don’t allow us lounge about on a clean, conceptual hillside, above the muck and dirt and sweat. They plunge us into it.

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Blake Butler on The Fassbinder Diaries

by on Jul.19, 2013

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Blake Butler has written a really interesting review of The Fassbinder Diaries over at Vice Magazine.

Here’s an excerpt:

Page by page the book continues to open and pile on itself, building as it goes a kind of catalog of cryptic films and sound, all of it laced together by the body of the book and coming open in odd places, with sudden images from nowhere like: “A pig can vibrate upon birth.” And “A red smear in an empty house, an isle covered with bird shit.” From jump to jump there builds a strange, hypnotic music, one which by the end has seemed to wrap around the reader like a film that never ends, insisting you stay in it alongside all the other images its captured. By the end, it is an experience more immediate and thrilling than one expects in such a small place, and lingers thereafter like a video you flipped to late one night on some shitty TV in a strange house and felt infatuated with or hypnotized by and never saw again. 

http-//www.vice.com/read#3DC385

 

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roving, virtual interviews part 2

by on Mar.14, 2013

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I forgot to mention that Joyelle and Johannes have been tagged to put up their interviews next on Montevidayo. (Above image in honor of St. Patrick’s day.)

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Roving, virtual interviews

by on Mar.08, 2013

fassbinderAs many readers out there probably know, there is a roving, virtual set of interview questions making its way through blogs and various sites called the Next Big Thing Interviews. One writer tags other writers, who tag others in turn, and the answers go up every Wednesday. (I like the idea of this: a seemingly source-less, ghost-in-the-machine interview process.)

I was recently tagged by Catherine Theis, who posted her answers at the Convulsive Editions blog, and here are the answers I should have posted this past Wednesday.

Question one: What is the working title of the book? The Fassbinder Diaries, coming out this June from Civil Coping Mechanisms. I’m also working on a crime novel called Black Mirror.

Question two: Where did the idea come from for the book? Fassbinder! His films, his camera angles, his use of color, his use of black-and-white, his literary adaptations, his original screenplays, but other films and filmmakers too, Godard, Zhang Ke Jia, Elem Klimov, Pasolini, Jack Smith, Leos Carax, Ivan the Terrible (both parts), Goodbye, Dragon Inn.

Question three: What genre does your book fall under? Film posters of the late Soviet era.

berlinalexanderplatzQuestion four: What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? For The Fassbinder Diaries they’ve already been chosen by Fassbinder himself. Barbara Sukowa plays Mieze, Hanna Schygulla is Eva, and Gunter Lamprecht appears as Franz Biberkopf. But there’s another version too, rumored to have been filmed by Kenneth Anger, where Oliver Hardy plays Franz, John Garfield is Mieze, and Marosa Di Giorgio is Eva.

Question five: What is the one sentence synopsis of your book? “About the Eternities Between the Many and the Few” (title of the 9th episode of Fassbinder and Doblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz).

Question six: How long did it take you to write the first draft of this manuscript? Answer the same as in question five.

Question seven: Who or what inspired you to write this book? Intense sunlight, heat, the beaches in Chicago, apartments without air-conditioning in July, various deserts in the southwest, the gravel yards of Tucson, the dusty piazzas of Naples, the palm trees growing on balconies in Los Angeles. Also, the great Music Box Theater in Chicago, where I wasted the last of my youth. And: Robbe-Grillet, Aase Berg, Rhys, Teresa of Avila, Para, Soyinka’s The Road, Warhol’s a:A Novel, Patricia Highsmith, the lives of famous film critics.

pierrotQuestion eight: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? I couldn’t think of an answer for this one, so I’ll quote Sam Fuller instead. “A film is like a battleground. It’s love, hate, action, violence, death. In one word: emotion.” From Pierrot le Fou.

Question nine: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? Neither, but being published by the very good people of Civil Coping Mechanisms.

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Believe the hype: McSweeney's Percussion Grenade

by on Feb.27, 2013

maddinMake it matter. Make it cut & infect

like contagious knives. Like a sidewalk

made smart with brain matter.

— from The Contagious Knives

A few years ago, I watched one of the special versions of Guy Maddin’s Brand upon the Brain! at The Music Box Theater in Chicago — one of the versions where a live actor read sections of the film (in this case, Crispin Glover) and where a crew was in place (called the Foley Artists) to create the sound effects. And the effect I remember most was the scene where a character turns to cannibalism, biting into the skull of another character: one of the sound artists at that point crunched and chewed a piece of celery into the microphone. (As I write this, I realize I might be mis-remembering. Maybe he twisted the celery in his hands instead? If anyone out there saw any of the shows, feel free to correct me!) The moment was funny, sickening, and unsettling in a way that’s hard to describe. It might have to do with the juxtaposition, and how it becomes almost an act of translation. The person in front of us eating celery = the image on the screen of a character eating brain with an all-too-real sound. The crunch, the saliva, the swallow. (Or so I remember it.) But of course it cuts the other way too, and by doing so taints the act of eating a stick of celery. Never had eating celery seemed so full of ill-intent. It reminded me of how Artifice can make the unsettling more so. The almost-pink blood in so many horror films from the 60s always seems more disturbing to me than the darker, more realistically colored blood in later movies. To me, something about the artifice made the violence more visceral. “Fake” fake blood can be more effective than “real” fake blood. Another example would be the bright “blood” Godard used in the 60s, a kind of POP “blood.”

To misquote Zizek (who was quoting Kieslowski): the fright of fake blood.

Anyway, I bring up the Maddin/celery/brain chewing incident because something about that experience reminds me of McSweeney’s Percussion Grenade, one of my favorite books of American poetry in the last few years. The “fake” blood in this book is all the more real for being fake. Good taste (the realm of “real” fake blood) is often a way of letting us stay in our comfort zones by whispering in our ear that Realism, after all, can never hurt us. It mimics reality. In can never be it.  Percussion Grenade offers the reader/performer no such assurances.

godard weekendThe collection is about violence, war, contamination, catastrophe, kill zones, contagions. We walk through this decimated landscape that seems to have has no beginning and no end — there are no privileged, aerial views of the disaster here. In “Dear Fi Jae 3,” the speaker works in a factory owned by a multi-national: “I had a glue pot & several brushes & I had a smock // which fastened at the neck with a thong and an eye // and my hair in spit curls like eyes on my forehead // and another eye for each cheek // and my feet thrust in half-slippers called moliere shoes // striped like circus tents.” The language-spill here — the eyes that foam over the scene — and the odd precision of the shoes (“striped like a circus tent,” with its childlike vibe contrasting strongly with this setting) create an atmosphere of menace. The speaker goes out to take a break and meets “the killer of little shepherds.” The factory floor soon turns into a killing floor. The speaker tells us, “I am no shepherd sir I tweeted // when I went back inside // he spilled my guts on the floor // too-clogged fish gear // drain damage system crushed emotional mutating agent // multinational.” The poem then turns spectral. The speaker says, “I dipped a latex cover’d hand to the glue pot // I glued the ghostface to the ghostproduct.” This Blakean poem ends on a Blakean note: “When this you see remember me.” The terrain here reminds me of the flattened worlds of Bolaño and Cormac McCarthy (especially Blood Meridian) and Godard’s Weekened. Flattened because there is no teleological escape hatch in those zones, only landscape and days and weather and years.

There are countless great lines and images in this book. The language at times seems wonderfully drunk on itself. (One example from “A Peacock in Spring”: “He shrugs obscenely green, / obscenely jewel-toned, obscenely neck-like, / an obscene grandeur and an obscene decadency, / A screen, a mask, a dance, / A thousand green-groping eyes.”) Artifice runs like acid through the pages, dissolving the usual connections and groundwork. In the play “The Contagious Knives, “Louis Braille stands alone in pink panties and pop-star t-shirt from target…He ties a brown leather strap around his eyes and inserts an awl into the right. In liquid eyeliner, he paints big black tear drops…” In the same play, Bradley Manning appears, played possibly by Andy Warhol. And there’s a wedding chorus made up of the Jack Smith Superstars circa Normal Love.

While reading the book, I kept thinking of the introductory titles in Godard’s Weekend: a film found in a trash heap, a film adrift in the cosmos. Art that exists in a fallen state — the art of “no future” — is also an art that exist in a guerilla state, with a guerilla sensibility: an art that doesn’t believe in the usual notions of representation, the picture window view, but in coordinates and montage. And McSweeney’s Percussion Grenade is a great example of it.

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Believe the hype: Vitkauskas' A Neon Tryst

by on Feb.25, 2013

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ghost image“Everything is true,” he said. “Everything anybody has ever thought.”

— Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

 

I’m always surprised that in 2013, there’s still a strain of cinemaphobia in some parts of academia. We’ve all heard the by-now well-worn arguments. Movies make us passive. Movies are the Roman bread-circuses of our time. The image is by its very nature oppressive, etc. There’s a deeply conservative strain of argument behind some of this thinking. We see the fear of the image in Plato, for example, where all things are appearances, false images that are nothing but debased forms of the true Concept. An image is doubly evil in this worldview since it is really the shadow of a shadow.

In contrast, there has always been a counter-tradition that sees images as additions, as surplus. And the lack of ground beneath the feet of the Image is really the lack of ground below our own feet.

Derrida used to say film and photography revealed something that had always been the case anyway — the world is full of ghosts. We’re ghosts to ourselves and others are ghosts to us. The fear of Image is often linked to the fear of anti-foundationalism. In this sense, all films are ghost stories.

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What is Lina Vitkauskas’ A Neon Tryst? A meeting place under a neon sign? A meeting place between poet and film, under the light of the marquee? Three movies are involved: Antonioni’s L’Eclisse, Frankenheimer’s Seconds, and Bergman’s Wild Strawberries.

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The poems aren’t about the films in any literal way. Instead, the poems do something more interesting, more ambitious. They capture what I imagine to be a fairly universal and yet unusual experience. You fall asleep on the couch while watching a movie or TV show. You wake up around two or three in the morning. You have a sense of intense lateness, even if you aren’t sure what time it is. It feels like no one else in your house or apartment building or town or city is awake. You can feel their sleep around you.

The room is dark except of the TV screen. You see the images dance around and try to make some sense of them. Continue reading “Believe the hype: Vitkauskas' A Neon Tryst” »

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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 “Hoy & Leon: Glory Hole & The Hot Tub” »

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Fassbinder's Berlin and Franz's Angels

by on Dec.12, 2012

For years, I’ve been meaning to watch Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, and I finally got around to it last summer. Quite a few critics have called it one of the best films ever made, and I agree, though it does have an unfair advantage, being more than fourteen hours long. Should it even be called a film, and not a TV show? It was produced for German television, after all.

It’s a debate that goes back since it was first produced. Sontag was adamant that is was a film, not a TV series. She even argued it should be seen in one viewing if possible — which would be quiet a feat. Others have been as adamant in the other direction.

I think it’s best comparable to Eisenstein’s gloriously weird Ivan the Terrible, with its two separate but adjoining halves. Both are histories with a deliberately staged quality, both bring together elements of “high art” (artistic shots, for example) with “low art” (both are dramatic as hell), and both films are incredibly stylistically diverse (the epilogue in Fassbinder’s film seems to almost have been made by a different filmmaker).

Susan Sontag in her famous review of the film said that it had achieved something in cinema that had never been done before: because of its extreme length, it has, she argued, the elasticity of a novel, with some scenes and scenarios being drawn out almost to the breaking point, and others snapping closed in only a few minutes.
Continue reading “Fassbinder's Berlin and Franz's Angels” »

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Masks, personas, floating operas, and the limits of authenticity

by on Dec.10, 2012

It’s true I prefer not to identify myself and I’ve been amused by the diversity of ways I’ve been judged and classified.

— Michel Foucault

I’ve been reading Public Enemies, a book by Bernard-Henri Lévy and Michel Houellebecq that consists of a series of letters they wrote to one another a few years ago. The topics are wide-ranging, moving from religion, to politics (Houellebecq interestingly describing himself as a “political atheist”), to art (they both love Baudelaire, Lévy having written a book about the poet and Houellebecq seeing Baudelaire as his central model for how to be a writer). I know some people are always saying to other people that we should not read Houellebecq, he’s a shocking human being, etc., but that kind of moralizing only makes it more likely I’ll pick up a book, and when I picked up The Elementary Particles, I actually found it surprisingly good, with an odd, weirdly contemporary melancholy I’ve seen in few other places. Wong Kar-wai’s early films, for example.

One of the things that strikes me about the Lévy/Houellebecq book is how curious they are about the world around them, even Houellebecq with his perpetual miserablism. In one paragraph, they’ll make a nuanced argument about Spinoza, or Pascal, and in the very next one discuss Irish tax policy (Houellebecq lived in Ireland for many years). Films, politics, high art, low art, God, sex, war, alcohol, drugs, insomnia, self-loathing, delusions of self-grandeur, the elegance of certain metaphysical axioms, reasons to write and reasons to not write: it all gets in the mix.

I bring up the book because of a quote from Lévy that relates to my recent post on hate. He writes to Houellebecq (who started their correspondence with a faux-attack on Lévy): “Why is there so much hatred? Where does it come from? And why, when the targets are writers, is it so extreme in its tone and virulence? Look at yourself. Look at me. And there are other, more serious cases: Sartre, who was spat on by his contemporaries; Cocteau, who could never watch a film to the end because there was always someone waiting to take a crack at him; Pound in his cage; Camus in his box; Baudelaire describing in a tremendous letter how the ‘human race’ is in league against him. And the list goes on. Indeed, we would need to look at the whole history of literature. And perhaps we would also need to try and explore writers’ own desire. Which is? The desire to displease, to be repudiated. The giddiness and pleasure of disgrace.”

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Years ago, I used to work at a bookstore in Evanston, Illinois, and I would occasionally thumb through one of the many self-help books we had in the store during slow points in the day. A surprising number of them talked of a kind of writing therapy. Keep a journal to become the person you truly are and reach your real self.

I have to admit, I can’t think of a less exciting reason to write. In contrast to the self-obsessed “write to become yourself’ school, Susan Sontag once said in an interview that if writing was no more than “self-expression,” she’d throw her typewriter out the window. (Her journals weren’t written for herself. They were written for herself and the eyes of God, as all interesting journals are. As were Camus’ journals, despite the fact he was an atheist. Camus wrote for himself and the eyes of a God he didn’t believe in.) And there’s Foucault, who said he didn’t write to find himself, but to become somebody different, somebody who did not exist when he first began to work on a particular project.

And Proust, one of my favorite writers: with him, the “I” isn’t stable, but an element of Bergsonian dynamism and experimentation. The self becomes an ever-shifting symphony, not a foundation to discover or to become. In the madeleine scene, it’s clear that memory is not truth, but sensation, or, to put is somewhat more abstractly, what Barthes’ called “an empire of signs.”

I prefer Lévy’s description of writing here — writing to displease, to be repudiated — to the model of authenticity and foundationalism (the two being joined at the spine) that still lingers over a surprising amount of writing in the U.S.

And instead of writing to find ourselves, there is always Kafka’s bracing idea that writing is an axe we use to break up the frozen water inside of us.

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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.

Appearances and not soul. The way writing or saying “I” turns us into other people and turns us out of ourselves. The way “I” turns us into a crowd.

Hume on the utter fucking indifference the world has to our moralities, our principles, our ideals: You cannot derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.’

Denis Lavant as an elderly woman. Denis Lavant as an assassin. Denis Lavant as the most fiendish and exact of guttersnipes. All in one day.

Ben from Blue Velvet already knowing the whole story. He’s already a thousand years old, like Pater’s Mona Lisa. He’s already with Poe, dozing in the House of Usher as the roof cracks over their heads.

The bright pointless clarity of objects and surfaces. The face reflected in the train window you don’t recognize as your own.

Beckett’s anonymous voices and Proust’s symphonic selves instead of the private property of “my story.”

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In Praise of Hate (for Alexander Cockburn 1941 – 2012)

by on Nov.30, 2012

 

Is your hate pure? 

— Alexander Cockburn

One of the common Republican refrains when it comes to raising tax rates for the super-wealthy — or as is currently the case, the possibility that the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent might expire — is that the desire to do so is based on class resentment, and only entitlement reform will bring about a truly sound financial future. Of course, the fact that the current tax policy has helped bring about inequalities not seen since the 1910s seems beside the point. For certain conservatives “the economy” is its own independent reality: if “the economy” is going strong (as measured by GDP and stocks and all those other elements neo-liberals are obsessed with), then it really doesn’t matter how many homeless we have, how many live under crushing debt, how many are trapped in shit jobs. By arguing that the economy is one set of numbers instead of another, we can have a perfectly healthy “economy” while also having an utterly barbaric one.

But I’m interested in this notion of resentment, this idea that the non-rich resent the wealthy. It’s an old idea that crystallized (as did so many of our current political views, both liberal and conservative) in England around the Victorian era. But instead of denying resentment, which is what the left and liberals tend to do, arguing, as Obama does, that it is really about fairness, I’ve often wondered why liberals and the left don’t embrace resentment. Why should resentment and anger and hate be so taboo? Love at times can be a tyrannical force; hate can sometimes be liberating and exhilarating.

At the end of Camus’ The Stranger, for example, Meursault hopes that when he is brought out for his execution the public will greet him with “cries of hate.” In those last lines of the novel (which is still one of my favorite books, though I read it for the first time more than twenty years ago), the narrator has embraced his strangeness, his isolation from others. With those closing words, he has made the hate of others into a badge of honor. And Jean Genet, only a few years later, would turn cries of hate into an emblem of negative sainthood, into trumpets heralding the sublime. And his characters understood how beautiful hate could be at certain moments too. As Divine says in Our Lady of the Flowers, “I hate them [pimps and gangsters], lovingly.” There is also the moment in The Thief’s Journal where he sees a woman he imagines to be his mother, and then imagines himself taking her hands into his own and vomiting into them.

On a more political level, I also think of the way FDR embraced hate in the famous speech where he said he knew that bankers hated him, and he welcomed that hatred. Despite all the warnings today about how politicians shouldn’t “go negative,” it should be remembered that FDR won that election by a landslide. Some might argue Roosevelt was only using rhetoric, and that he wasn’t as radical as those words would suggest, and that might be true: and yet can anyone even dimly imagine Clinton (either one) or Obama using such language?

When I was growing up, I certainly hated the avarice of the rich, a naked avarice that was celebrated by the President and the media. In the racially mixed neighborhood in Memphis where I grew up, crack was sold openly on certain corners, and people above the age of twenty-five or so would go inside their houses at dusk, since shootings were common. Some nights, police helicopters would circle, flying around like giant insects with a beaming, bright eye that shone a patch of light up and down the street and through the yards. And the streets themselves seemed populated by ghosts. The trash of Reagan’s America. There were the prostitutes, the so-called crack whores — usually young white women fresh from some small town in Mississippi or Arkansas — who walked around the streets in the afternoon. Their hair would be oily and they’d wear skimpy shorts and always seem to be holding a can of coke and a cigarette. There was the Vietnam vet who lived a few blocks away. He was a black man in his forties who got around in his makeshift wheel chair and would come up to our house some nights, asking for any canned food we might have on hand. He would sit on his porch alone most afternoons and glare at the traffic going by. There were the addicts who roamed around in the same clothes every day. And the young men not much older than myself who would disappear for weeks or months, spending time either in a hospital or prison.

 And during this time, which was also the time of Reagan and the time of the first Bush, I hated a great deal. I hated the gunshots, the helicopters. I hated it when friends who lived in the suburbs complained about how boring the suburbs were — I would have loved growing up someplace boring. I hated the news, because when it showed drive-bys, or talked about crack, it would be framed as if those things happened on another planet. And I hated the viciousness of American politics, a politics that I saw as being in literal war with not only the people in my neighborhood, who often looked as if they were staggering about in some collapsed State, but with myself, since I lived there. I hated the well-financed, the well-manicured, the well-connected. Hate kept me going.

Hate can lead to bitterness, small-minded obsessions, etc., but so can love. And hate can produce great Art. Baudelaire, Artaud, Faulkner, Plath, Godard, Bacon, Zulawski, Thek, Soyinka, and Carax. Their work at various points is powerfully lit up by hatred. It might be political or ontological or (as is often the case) both, but it’s there, a warm, dense force reaching outward.

Lastly, one of the things I admire about writers of the political grotesque (McSweeney, Goransson, Glenum, early Reines, Kilpatrick, and others) is their lack of fear in regards to hate. So much American poetry post-1950s has virtually outlawed hate. Or rather, anger and hate is allowed in slam poetry, but not in “literary” poetry, where such forces are often considered bad form. Tragedy is good. So is melancholy. So is a Marxist-Hegelian analysis of X and Y and Z, if you happen to be an experimental poet. But hate? One of the things the American poetry scene owes to poets like McSweeney and Goransson and Glenum is the way they have brought hate back to American poetry.

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Book Reviews: Scanlon & Theis

by on Nov.27, 2012

Promising Young Women by Suzanne Scanlon (Dorothy, a publishing project). This book consist of a series of narrative fragments, somewhat like Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, and like the Johnson book it has one foot in the realm of short story and the other in the world of the novel. There is one character, named Lizzie, and we follow her through a shifting, non-chronological account of a time earlier in her life when she was so severely depressed she was institutionalized in the Rockland State Psychiatric Institute. Yet the book, despite the similarities with Jesus’ Son, is by no means a copy of that novel. (I’m not saying this as a criticism of Johnson, whose work I love, but as a criticism of the countless Johnson-like stories and books that came out after Jesus’ Son and that all too often felt like pale imitations of that earlier work.) The pieces that make up this book give a wonderful account of being young and creative and out-in-the-world for the first time, and, to me at least, the best parts are those that relate how Lizzie maneuvered through her world before and just after institutionalization. In “Mount St. Helens,” we get a glimpse of Lizzie as a young girl watching her mother slowly die in a hospital; in one of my favorite stories (or chapters), entitled “All That You Aren’t But Might Possibly Be,” we see Lizzie in the first weeks after being released from Rockland, trying out for a part in a play and getting hit by a car in the process; and in “Am I Blue?” we see the narrator in her dorm room calmly swallowing pill after pill, her tone no more emotional than if she were writing a term paper. In fact, “Am I Blue?” is the last story in the book, and the implication is that this is the suicide attempt that leads to Lizzie winding up in Rockland. Because it closes the novel, it gives the entire book a circular feel, as if time has secretly been tugging us backward through the narrative.

Another element I like about this book is how it openly wears its influences on its sleeve, and yet never in a coy, Gosh-I’m-smart manner. The moving ending is a clear reference to the famous ending in Woody Allen’s Manhattan, where Allen’s Isaac Davis talks about his list of favorite things while speaking into a tape recorder. In Scanlon’s scene, Lizzie and her friend Dread make a list of their own favorite things shortly after meeting each other in Los Angeles. The fact that Lizzie references Allen elsewhere suggests that she had internalized Allen’s film, or rather that she uses Allen’s narrative to frame her own narrative. Scanlon has Lizzie do the same with Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illych in the chapter “The Other Story.” Here certain elements from the Russian novella (the syllogism on mortality, the black sack) are re-employed by Lizzie to speak about her mother’s death. But no grand statements about authorship, etc., seem to be implied. Rather, Scanlon’s use of Allen, Tolstoy, Plath and others, suggests that we all pick up narratives here and there, and that we use these narratives to create our own. Art is always infused with life, and vice versa. By having art intermingle with life so casually and subtly, Scanlon’s use of outside narratives (Allen’s, Tolstoy’s, etc.) is more subversive than those novels and stories that have their sources displayed with bright neon letters since those bright neon letters windup reinforcing the divide between art and life even as they claim to undermine it. Scanlon’s book takes place in a space that is already beyond the poles of authenticity and inauthenticity.

 

The June Cuckold by Catherine Theis (Convulsive Editions). If Greco-Roman statues could speak, I imagine they would talk like the characters in Theis’ new poem-play. The tone is stately and formal, and yet the poems are brimming with Nature and Art. Early in the play, we are told about a sprinkler snake “embedded in cream-drop white flowers,” and a coat of arms “imbued / with champagne bubbles, rosy circular reds, / bottom-lip pinks.” A few pages later, the central couple is described as being “perfumed in a wealth of orange blossom,” and one of the characters claims, “The only painting / I can look at for hours / is the sun.” As that last quote especially suggests, nature and art are often entwined in this book, with one seeming to spill out from the other. And the sun, as both Van Gogh and Bataille knew, is not only a figure for lucidity and reason, but also, when looked at too long, an image of the extinguishment of lucidity and reason. As one of the last lines in the book states, “We all live in furnaces of heat and light.”

As in Theis’ previous book, The Fraud of Good Sleep (Salt), the poems here have a very Nietzschean spirit. Too often Nietzsche is thought of as simply the philosopher of Dionysian impulses and Grecian fatalism, but what is often forgotten is that he was also the philosopher of lightness and dance, a philosopher who argued for “a mocking, light, fleeting, divinely untroubled, divinely artificial art, which, like a pure flame, licks unclouded skies.” Gravity is as much of a yoke as so-called “truth.” One of the many things I like about Theis’ work is that it isn’t grave and it doesn’t search for deep psychological and/or phenomenological truths.  As one character shouts, “gallivanting greens, wake up!” And yet this lightness doesn’t cancel out fatalism. As Samuel the husband says, “So begins a new affair: / Tragedy, Ecstasy, Doom, / which really is the project / from before the Before.” Fatalism doesn’t have to be a burden; as Nietzsche wrote, the “Greeks were superficial out of profundity.”

But as Greco-Roman and Mediterranean as these poems are, they’re never backward-looking. There’s nothing dusty or slavish to the past here. Rather, the classical world is dislodged and made new. The past becomes a way of de-familiarizing the future.

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CCM Fundraiser

by on Nov.20, 2012

The good people at Civil Coping Mechanisms, who are publishing my book The Fassbinder Diaries next year, have just kicked off a really intriguing fundraiser. Donors have the chance of recieving gifts of various mysterious types. My own gift will be a box filled with props from a ruined, acid-eaten silent film that might have begun production in Berlin in the 1920s and that was possibly completed in a New York basement in the early 60s. The title of the film is still being deciphered, though its origins are clearly in Pig Latin. The box might be a cigar box or a broken music box. The objects inside will include bits of the remaining script, misplaced postcards, spoons used in unspeakable silent-era games, and other props.

Other gifts include a KTBAFC (Keep This Bag Away From Children) grab bag from Andrew Worthington, and an autographed chapbook and custom-tailored poem from Ana Carrete.

If you like Montevidayo, you’ll like Civil Coping Mechanisms. It’s all part of the same nocturnal orbit.

 

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