Author Archive

The Book That Killed Me: LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs's TWeRK

by on Apr.23, 2013

twerk2

I am slain, felled, sweetened up and served by Latasha N. Nevada Diggs’ TwERK. It’s like an almanac-zodiac-aphrodesiac-cum-emetic: it’s going to make the language come out of you, and the knowledge, too. At the bargain price of 15 dollahs, this book, fetchingly wrapped in a crunk doily designed by Doug Kearney, delivers page after page of astounding and invigorating rhymes, rhythms, inflections, infections, connections, inventions, allusions and sluices. It’s freaky-deaky, freaking alluvial. It’s brainy and broad and plays its own killer jingle and drives up in its own truck. Watch, children!

TwERK hollas at you from the very first page, opens up by inviting you into a profane dialogue, Elizabethan in its innovation, its linguistic voracity, virtuosity, swift pace, killer instinct and bawdy humor (please be aware: this is not the correct spacing/layout for this poem– only as close as I could get on blog interface):

Mista Popo said: oh bodacious Zwarte Piet,

How does the butterfly thrive

for my big ole kettle belly?

 

An extra scoot never too robust for my flying carpet.

 

So croon,

holla at me Jynx,              holla at me Jynx,

holla at me Jynx w/some soba on the side.

Let’s fly away!

 

Mista Popo want that corn husky hair.

 

What inmate of the twenty-first century, what language-loving carbon based life form could not rejoice in the presence of such a pliant, flexible virtuosity as LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs’s? In the above passage, a zesty and ribald momentum opens its throat for a wash of dubious figures from global culture, and the page is both a party and a scrum: Zwarte Piet, the blackface figure and holdover from colonialism who accompanies Santa Claus in  Dutch culture; Jynx and Mr. (here ‘Mista’) Popo, literally cartoonish icons of blackness from Japanese anime culture who in their ‘Mista’-ness also call up the history of such images in Western culture; the iconic ‘flying carpet’, the fetish of Orientalism which hovers over and behind Western obsession with  ‘Arab’ cultures and bodies ; even the casual imperialism and race politics of the 50’s Rat Pack tucked into that lyric from Sinatra’s ‘Come Fly with Me’.  This poem is racy; this poem is rapier; this poem is sick and sic; this poem is fun! To me it suggests that the vicious vivacity of racist thinking is both the signature of our contemporary global imperialist culture and also its weakness, a circuit back through which lawless bursts of energy may possibly be made to reverse, amplify, over-dub, loop and surge, not unwriting the damage of globalism but defibrillating it, re-animating it, converting the damage to something else entirely: something next.

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs has a lot of language at her disposal, more, I would guess, than most other North American humans. This book speaks Japanese, Spanish, English, Hindi, Urdu, Maori, Hawaiian, Samoan, Swahili, Runa Simi (Quechua), Yoruba, Portuguese, Cherokee (Tsa’lagi), Tagalog, Chamorro, Papiamentu.  Some poems are written in an English so alive with Diggs’s ingenuity it feels like a new fabric (“Sunspot”); others mobilize Caribbean-inflected dialects; others are in multiple languages which incorporate translation, change, and doubleness into their very format, so that the reader can feel the languages touching and  making out and mutating in ‘real-time’—that is, in the art-time of  Diggs’s voice and brain– into an irresistible scintillating new element which is as valuable as a smart-metal but which can be enjoyed without being mined, bought, fought for, bled for, or sold. Something virtual:

                knee deep as I speak,    kino body rock.

lehelehe wit the glock

of menehune.                   freak of the week.          you’s a pua‛a at a lû’au.

 

my hand lima blazes like Ka‛ahupahua.

make dope-a-delic like Redman in a hula

let me tell it:

I’m taking cheek papālina,

poli breast feedin’ malihini dust schemas.

 

 

In charming, generous endnotes which really read like rich and plentiful poems of their own, Diggs informs the reader that this poem was an experiment in scoring rap form for the page, and also that it makes use of Hawaiian language for various body parts with the translation of the body part “literally beside it (either before or after the word).” Just that explanation is an example of Diggs’s brainy, breezy brilliance; to be ‘literally beside it’ is to be in ecstasy; to have one body part ‘literally beside it’ on the page is for the two languages to ‘literally touch’ through a ‘literal’ double body. The circuit happens in and as a surplus, and so much life and energy and language pours through this light relay that it the entire current is transferred to  and through the reader as joy.

I cannot shout loud enough about Latasha N. Nevada Diggs’s TWeRK. Language is not a neutral tool, and the history of the peoples who belong to these language and the hegemonic forces that would distress, suppress or obliterate both the languages and their peoples is what makes these poems so fierce, fraught, bladey and mobile. The showiness  and flaunt of these poems are like the fierceness of the drag balls Diggs’ salutes in one poem: a visible weapon, a tactic simultaneously offensive and defensive, a wargame for the whole body. Diggs’s poems truly work the whole body of the poem, the whole body of sound, the whole body of history, the whole body of voice and ear, the whole body of language and the ability of the page to be its own sonic syntax; they articulate and rotate joints that seemed fixed; they are bawdy and triumphant and they more than work. They TwERK.

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Believe the Hype: The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal

by on Feb.25, 2013

taxidermy

Every once in a while (ok, fairly often) I discover a work of (usually translated) poetry and it’s as if existence has propagated  a lawless fold in itself that allows itself to continuously redouble its awesomeness in a blithe bacterial repopulation of the world-gut with awesomeness.

That’s the experience I have (and the experience YOU will have, dear reader) while reading The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal by Tytti Heikkinen, trans. Niina Pollari (to debut from Action Books at AWP bookfair !). This book is brainy, rambunctious, gross and sad. The poems knit together the language of ‘where we are now’ until it reads like where we’ve never been and where we are always jailed up to be but maybe in a horni lady jail on planet future. At one moment this book is all limpid/lyric and slightly encrusted with dried goo–

I’ve found a stripper pen.

When you tilt it, the swimsuit slides away from the woman and reveals the body.

The picture is endless but placid, presents an argument

with a blackbird voice:

Best to know as little as possible at a time, so the transparent tube’s mystery remains intact.

 

–And the next moment the book is crooning in the voice of chat-room sybil Fatty XL, as in this poem, “Fatty-XL: Winter is Long:

 

Ihave great hair. Winter is long. today it didn’t snow or

sleet. I slept a lot and went outside

a little.

Yesterday had an evening with Eikka in the evening. He was like,

it’s pretty great how we’re constantly moving

into a direction without prejudice. It was really fun

but after twelve bottles (or cans…) don’t remember

the particulars. Before he left back

to basic) eikka wrote a note and asked me to show

it just to be sure at the pharmacy.

Brother’s hamster didn’t learn any new tricks.

Even mom says it knows one trick since it

hasn’t been castrated? I was confused?

 

Everything in this poem is totally ‘sic’, but the way. (continue reading…)

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Stamen's Sorrow: A Valentine from Yayoi Kusama

by on Feb.07, 2013

Here’s a little heart-shaped box called ‘Stamen’s Sorrow’. Not the patrilineal purposefulness of ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’,  or even the biopowerful functionality of the complete flower. These stamen are locked in their pretty ‘andromecium’, or men’s house. They pollinate each other there, beautifully, forever, obliterating rather than producing another generation of male parts.

 

Yayoi Kusama, “Stamen’s Sorrow”.

They are on their way to obliteration by their own motherless pollen grains, but they are not obliterated yet. Yayoi Kusama writes in her autobiography, “Polka dots were the trademark of the Kusama Happenings. […] Defining them was not important. What I was asserting was that painting polka-dot patterns on a human body caused that person’s self to be obliterated and returned him or her to the natural universe.” Yet this is not a natural universe arranged along hierarchies of evolution crowned with Homo sapiens sapiens (thinking thinking thinking thinking.) The sorrow of the pollen is also its useless adornment and also its release into nothingness. It does not fertilize anything unless it fertilizes itself with obliteration. In her poem, “Sorrow Like This,” she writes, “Come Death, if you’re coming  Let me embark for the universe.”

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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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tfj_bVIwyeA

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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Sugar Books: Kirsten Hudson's 'Artificial Sweetness' and Johannes Goransson's Cutter's Feminism

by on Jan.14, 2013

Every once in a while you stumble on an artist who is articulating (or disarticulating) a set of ideas, materials, genres and media in a way so viscerally perfect for your needs that the experience is pharmaceutical and you want to turn your friends on to it immediately. Well friends, I would like to share the work of Australian artist Kirsten Hudson.

Hudson’s work, by her own description, is a series of works in “video, print, and sugar”. Sugar’s status as an imperial commodity historically derived from slave labor, and, in its artificial form, a carcinogenic corporate product of mandatory consumption; its sickliness, sharpness and stickiness; its coding for women, children, and vapidity;  its power to radically denature the body’s metabolism; and its quite mutable and distinct physical states, make it an excellent and dismaying medium for Hudson to work with in her various sculptures, prints and installations (brilliantly, her website, Artificial Sweetness, seems to generate houseflies, death’s attendants, and the shoddy housewife’s, as well– and also plays the ‘Nutcracker”s celeste motif, a sonic manifestation of sugar.) The pieces themselves manifest (and destroy, possibly digest) sugar in different ways, until it seems as if the  body has been turned inside out– sugar is used against hte body, and the body is used against sugar:

In these two performance stills, a cotton candy gown is eaten away, registering violence against the female body who performs the dress, and now appears to be a mass of ravaged tissue, while in fact performing its own demise. Other works in this series include lumps of sugar entitled ‘lump: my autobiography” and a pink chandelier made of fondant equalling the excess weight Hudson carried since losing her stillborn baby.

Hudson’s ‘repulsive‘ interest in the multisensory pathways of sugar derives from the philosophical mission of her work. In the essay, “Taste My Sorrow”, she writes

As an example of art-making that embraces a fully fleshy empathic imagination, […] Taste My Sorrow -my ongoing series of video, print and sugar-based works– […] seeks to trigger a pre-discursive, pre-cognitive, pre-language affectthat momentarily allows the viewer to be amidst rather than stand before the “otherness” of a body in/of trauma. By proposing the possibility of “being amidst”, I do not pretend that it is desirable or even possible to reduce the “Other’s” trauma to one’s own singular subjective understanding or experience of trauma. Instead I use the possibility of “being amidst” as a sensorial alternativeto the primacy of vision. So rather than enacting a totalising panoramic “knowing” gaze that classifies and segregates the traumatised “other” (Levinas1989), I propose an empathic imagination as a way of “being with” thetraumatised “Other” that accepts the ambiguity, ambivalence and “unknowability” of what has led to, or resulted in, a body in/of trauma.”

Kirsten Hudson’s work, in addition to its own ‘botched’ fertility, provides set of images and concepts which helps me think about Johannes Goransson’s entire work, basically, including his upcoming work, Sugar Book. All his work is made of spectacular, debriding series in which each part burns up and provides a wound we can poke our attention through to see the next installment in the series. Not only do his work host incredible (well, actually, credible) violence, but they do a kind of cutter’s violence to themselves, cutting away the thin white wrist skin of the paper to get at the infection that runs underneath as busy as a freeway in a city that shits movies:

I am supposed to find a killer but I am feverish in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles tastes like iron in my mouth.

Maybe I’m dying of a disease brought home to me from my daughters. They are conduits of contagion. They bring the outside into the inside and the inside into the outside. They stand by the stairs and stare at me. They have dark dark hair and blue eyes. Their dresses look clean but their mouths are soiled.

We live inside The Meadow. That’s not its true name of the hotel but that’s what I call it because of the lamb masks.

Infection: white cells. White skin. Black masks. Irony is a crowbar in the teeth. Sugar races in the streets, metabolism burns the strip mall down. Race, gender, violence– the mouth of the poem is stuffed with girls, and the girls in the poem are stuffed with contagion. The face of the poem is stuffed with mask, and the masks are stuffed with race. The poem destroys itself by being read. The Sugar Book  must be consumed, cuts and degrades the teeth, hygiene is deplorable in this abbatoir-cum-motel, a space where the ‘gender wars’ deploy themselves in an ominbody, city, book, family, cuttering, dilation and cutterage, & montage & frottage, decapitation, reanimation. The Internet tells me

“Sugar Melting Point Varies Because Sugar Doesn’t Melt; It Decomposes”

This is what makes Johannes a feminist.

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Polka-Dots, Repulsive Holes, and the Political Aesthetics of Benthic "Life" Forms in Yayoi Kusama and Kim Hyesoon

by on Jan.10, 2013

yayoi-kusama-at-The-Centre

 

When is a dot a hole and when is a hole a dot? What can a dot do, what can a hole do?  When does a polka dot (most cheerful and ludicrous of marks) become a hole? Is a hole a zero, or does it emit? Maybe a  hole becomes a dot when it begins to pulse, to emit, when it begins, even, to repel:

O

Goodness, I didn’t know there were such repulsive holes

As Kim Hyesoon’s landmark poem, “Manhole Humanity”, comes into English in the hands of Don Mee Choi, it begins to pulse each time the word ‘hole’ is repeated, hundreds of times across the many pages of the poem. Not only is the word ‘hole’ repeated, but it makes a triply proliferant glyph for itself, the interior ‘o’ that signals from the middle of “hole”, the capital ‘O’ that announces each new section of the poem, which further doubles itself in the ‘o’ shape or ‘hole’ the human mouth must make to mouth this syllable. Oxymoronically, however, this pulsing hole announces and reproduces absence, a zero, a hole. In this way the hole begins to pulse or beat—to be ‘repulsive”—the emptiness of the “O” begins sending out beats—that which is ‘repulsive’ sends out a counterpressure, a counter pulse. Perhaps a negative pulse. Perhaps an oxymoronically empty-full pulse. It beats back, and it beats—an unwholesome life force of the low and the dead beating back to life.

The field of holes begins to beat. The field of holes begins to pulse. To repulse. To repel.

Hair sprouts up inside the holes and ripples like water plants.

Holes are neatneatly piled a steaming stomach.

The wet and most poisonous snakes in the world pant.

Fill us up! fill us up with the outside!

Delicious outside!

Delicious outside!

When hair whines like the fingers that reach out towards the refugee-aid bread truck someone picks up a brass instrument and wails at the sky praising the blueness.

Holes of the world, open up your lids and howl! 

 

The poet Kim Hyesoon( Korean, b.1955) and the artist Yayoi Kusama (Japanese,b. 1929)  are separated by a generation, by typical medium, and by nationality but united it seems to me in their experience of a militarized/occupied/war-defined childhood and their attempt to configure an art-language-system for a kind of modified, oxymoronic survival which strafes stasis and oppressive systems with a counter- or sub-system of dots and holes.

 

There is a rumor that those holes carry a drug-resistant strain of blood-poisoning virus.

(continue reading…)

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Everything was Sublime: The Black Nature of Hilma af Klint (and Marie Curie and Kim Hyesoon)

by on Jan.03, 2013

“The fern craze opened as men’s clothes turned black.”— The Victorian Fern Craze: A History of Pteridomania, by Daniel Allen Elliston

Hilma_af_Klint

We may have missed the future in which Hilma af Klint’s work could have been received.  Perhaps we encounter it now in its permanent quiescence, a ruin of the former future. Her work is occult, runic, enclosed and split open, some works 11 feet tall, others closed in 150 secret notebooks, secret leaves conjuring to each, awaiting a dead/future reader. Her day job was painting flowers, producing the autokitsch of Swedish naturalism; her black work was drawing occult diagrams, geometric forms and colors which seek to understand the life force or ‘astral guidelines’ in these very flowers, songbirds, lichen. Her work thus unites the strictures of Malevich with the necrotic knowledge that life is an uncanny thing which must make its way fields of black matter by scavenging for various forms; her spirit teachers told her, “Your mission is to open their eyes to a life that lasts for eternity.”

hilma

She wrote in her notebooks in 1917,

“Everything is contained within the black cube: The greenery of the earth is the bottom of the cube, the blue air is its roof, and the water-filled part is situated at that section of the cube that I rest my back against.” Her own body is a measuring stick for the totality; she turns her back on the black cube to draw it again and again; she knows it intimately, by heart, as if it has been transferred through the bones of her back.

It makes me think of Marie Curie, knowledge of radium learned as isotopes passed through the hands, writing out their own semiotics in fatigue, burns and and leukemia–

marie curie

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:

From “Sublime Kitchen” (trans. Don Mee Choi)
I caught a glimpse of her kitchen once
The rain cloud of flour mushroomed (continue reading…)

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Excess or Precision? Hot Pink War Zone

by on Dec.14, 2012

In light of various conversations going on on this site,  I’m wondering what you all think about the photos of Richard Mosse. A slideshow of his work may be seen here.

Mosse’s photos are taken with special Infrared film developed by the (U.S?) military to distinguish between natural foliage and the camouflage of soldiers hiding in landscape.

Foliage reflects infrared light and camouflage absorbs it, so infrared-sensitive film can reveal camouflaged troops and buildings, as well as produce the pink tints in these pictures. In this way, Mosse highlights the eastern Congo’s natural bounty while acknowledging both the medium’s origins and, he points out, the West’s tendency to see in the Congo only darkness and insanity.

In this account, Mosse is clearly using the film with an editorial viewpoint– he chooses exoticism of hot pink verdency (paradox!) versus the ‘Heart of Darkness’ angle which erects a permanent dark shade over Africa under which ‘extermination’ is conducted.

 

But this is military film creating this hot pink effect– and hot pink affect– military film, developed to create better ‘targets’ for the picking off of camouflaged soldiers.  Yet in Mosse’s hand, this military tool, this imaging weapon, creates a riot of artifice, a huge tide of inhuman, otherworldly pink which marks the soldiers and refugees as incredibly human, as if human-ness had concentrated in these human forms having been pushed out of the landscape by pink itself.Looked at still another way, the soliders pose in the photos like the glamorous subjects they are. Perhaps the violence of that wrenching pink is funneled through or conducted to them, rather than pressing down upon them. Perhaps this is an other element, the element not of darkness or of foreignness but of ambient violence, of war, a landscape made hyperluciferian by the lens of war itself.

 

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Plus de Panique! : On Drag as The Real, Fierce Potential Next in TJY, Paris is Burning, & Johannes Goransson

by on Nov.19, 2012

The Lit Diva Extraordinaire!

un: the threat of art/ la menace d’art

“[Threat’s] nature is open ended. It is not just that it is not; it is not in a way that is never over. We can never be done with it. […]There is always the nagging potential of the next after it being even worse and of a still worse next again after that. The uncertainty of the potential next is never consumed in any given event.”

This quote, from Brian Massumi’s “The Future Birth of the Affective Fact”, is embedded in an argument about the regime of ‘pre-emption’ that took hold of American governance during the Bush Administration; the inextinguishibility of threat prompts the perpetual generation of ‘preemption’, both noxious ‘homeland security’ practices and aggression abroad.  In Massumi’s argument, threat is distinctive for its unkillability, its anachronistic perma-futurity which is nevertheless linked to a ‘pre’.

However, re-reading Massumi’s article this morning, I was struck by how well it also described Art’s threat. Art is a threat, not a tool or fact; it’s a surplus; it’s hypothetical; it is figurative and literal threat;  it comes from the future to make things happen in the present; and it is ‘not’ in a way that is never over, because it is not alive. It does not marry, yet it proliferates. It is contagious. It generates nextness. It is the body of nextness. There is a ‘next’ and a ‘still worse next again after that’. No event can consume the uncertainty.

This is my favorite thing about Art! And Art’s threat is most clearly embodied in the practice of Drag. As Massumi notes later elsewhere in his essay, “The value of the alert is measured by its performance.” “Threat has no actual referent.” Instead, “It has a performantive threat value.”

In other words, threat pour la threat.

Or, as a footnote quotes a French headline, Plus de panique!

 

deux: the fierce and the real/le féroce et le réel

The performative nature of threat, its Edelmanian participation in a lineage-threatening alternate temporality, begins to make it, for me, synonymous with drag performance. There are many ways to contextualize and discuss drag, but two words which always come to mind are “fierceness” and “realness” . Fierceness already communicates Drag’s explicit threat; it is a weaponized aestheticism, an over-emphasis, an overtness that seizes attention and disrupts convention. Realness is Drag’s implicit threat; for realness also seizes attention and disrupts convention by revealing an array of would be ‘naturalized’ identities as assumed, performed, exterior rather than interior.

As Lee Edelman as made clear, there is a temporal (or rather anachronistic) dynamic to this performance; queerness disrupts patrilineal structures, which  both disrupts our sense of a  linear past with its biblical ‘begatness’ as well as the patriarchal future with its heterosexually reproducing sons and daughters. As such it undoes the temporal assumptions on which nationhood is also secured. This terroristic threat is embodied by the transvestite ‘terrorist’ in Patrick McCabe’s Breakfast on Pluto; once this glamorous victim of a nightclub bombing is discovered to be a transvestite, she becomes synonymous with the terrorist who planted the bomb.  More particularly, Drag disrupts conventional notions of ‘family time’. In Paris Is Burning, waves of ‘legendary children’ issue from dynastic houses;  yet the ‘houses’ find their ‘patrimony’(?) not in patriarchs but in the names of fashion brands and other fiercely glamorous sounding nominations, sometimes referencing the ‘house mother’: “House of LeBieja”,  ‘House of Ninja’, etc.  Moreover the nomination ‘Legendary Children’ itself embodies a pre-emptive threat: the children are already ‘legendary’—in the future we will look back on them as being legendary, but they also impossibly project their legendary status anachronistically in the present, through their performance; this is their threat, and their permanence.

 

trois: Legendary Children/les enfants légendaires

 

When we look at contemporary examples of the drag/threat aesthetic, we see this indexing of fierceness and realness to both childhood and threat.  Tim Jones-Yelvington’s visual aesthetic (as of present writing) enacts a fierce, glam futurity, with his weaponized cheekbones, bomb-blast hairdo, and laservision eyes.  I had the good fortune to be present at  Tim’s recent birthday festivities; in this performance TJY, Lit Diva Extraordinaire, takes control of her ‘genesis’, writing it over with festive tabloid hyperconfessionalism; narrativity’s lasciviousness detonates in the person of the Diva herself into a kind of pop-explosion which would blow apart the body of a suicide bomber, were she made of conventional ballistics. However, the impossible properties of the Diva’s threat body means that it is not ‘extinguished’ in its Art explosion; as a threat-body, it merely reconfigures itself.

The uncertainty of the potential next is never consumed in any given event.

Thinking about the Lit Diva Extraordinaire and her birthday bash also made me think of a recurring motif in Johannes Goransson’s work: “The Genius Child Orchestra”. (continue reading…)

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On Loaded Guns 2: Emily Dickinson, Black Civil War soldiers, and Shane McCrae's Blood

by on Nov.16, 2012

I often make a plea here and in my classes for ‘occult reading practices’—reading practices that search out occult influences moving among texts, influences that work anachronistically or telepathically or across a medium of diabolical ‘sympathy’, influence itself as a kind of ectoplasm, an uncanny, distorting, magnetic and often duplicitous material. While I was reading Shane McCrae’s Blood (due out this Spring from Noemi Press; a sequence from this book is also available as “In Canaan”, a chapbook from Rescue Press), a second poem kept arising like a haint in my mind, so that I felt that Shane’s book and this phantom poem were tugging each other into spectral presence like linked emanations. That second poem was Emily Dickinson’s 754,  “My Life had stood–a Loaded gun–”. Dickinson’s poem lit up McCrae’s work with klieg lights, and McCrae’s poems reanimated Dickinson’s poem with an anachronistic power which, ironically, flooded the earlier poem both with the historical context of its composition during the Civil War and with the violence which preceded and followed it, all the violence of mankind spasming along axes of ferocious power.

“The history of blackness is testament to the fact that objects can and do resist,” writes Fred Moten in the introduction to his world-splitting work, In the Break.

Blackness, the extended movement of a specific upheaval, on ongoing irruption that anarranges every line—is a strain that pressures the assumption of the equivalence of personhood and subjectivity. While subjectivity is defined by the subject’s possession of itself and its objects, it is troubled by a dispossessive force objects exert such that the subject seems to be possessed—infused, deformed—by the object it possesses. […..] [Saidiya] Hartman shows how narrative always echoes and redoubles the dramatic interenactment of ‘contentment and abjection,’ and she explores the massive discours of the cut, of rememberment, and redress, that we always here in narratives where blackness marks simultaneously both the performance of object and performance of humanity.

As Moten’s introduction continues, he examines the “Aunt Hester” episode from Frederick Douglass’s Autobiography as a place in which the ‘shrieks’ of the slave’s body under torture stand in for the natal scene which would typically anchor an autobiography; under the derangement of history-as-violence, blackness comes into being as “an ongoing irruption that anarranges every line”—as violence converted into long, continuous, confounding, immortal shriek which passes from body to body.

Shane McCrae’s book begins in ambiguity and vertigo; its title ‘Blood’ could refer to the sureties of the bloodline which secures inheritence and generations, but in the context of this book, which records so intensely the repetitive violence by which black voices and bodies are stitched into historical time, recasts that blood as violence’s red body which pushes itself into the space of black bodies.  The book carries the dedication, “For my father, for his parents, for their parents,” a reverse-lineage which claims a multitude of referents working backwards in time, but its parallelism also has a kind of repetitiveness to it, as if the parents and fathers were repeating across time, coming back into present and future time.

In fact this is the thrust of McCrae’s book, providing lyric testimonies to the constitutive violence of periods of history which we must all too ruefully own as “American”—testimonies of rape, murder, kidnapping and imprisonment pre-Civil War, testimonies of Black soldiers made to fight during the Civil War, testimonies of lynchings and separations, and finally an intertemporal elegy that seems to yoke together and bring into immanence figures from no-one-specific-or-else-every time. In all these testimonies, McCrae’s use of short phrase and fragment, repetition of names, and plaintive shifts of address underscore the sameness and repetition of the dispossessions suffered by the speakers, the “strain”, “trouble”, deformation and damage undergone by these people forced to simultaneously undertake “the performance of object and the performance of humanity.”

The result of this unbearable doubleness (which adds up, simultaneously to more than two and less than zero) is that the black body becomes a medium into which violence can spasm and through which it can move. One poem, at the beginning of the book, voices a female slave’s desperation: (continue reading…)

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On Loaded Guns 1: Emily Dickinson, Bomb of Amherst

by on Nov.09, 2012

A Loaded Gun, 1863

 

In the past year I’ve found my thoughts returning & returning to Dickinson’s Loaded Gun (Poem 754).  How is the body (and the body of the poem) a vessel of violence, but not of agency, a site from which violence returns and goes, is doubled up, masked, wears the mask of another, shines its face everywhere? The loaded gun is an amplifier, a medium. It sounds the landscape through its roar and glare. It replaces the sun and,  part camera flash and part nuclear bomb, develops the landscape like the bomb at Hiroshima which burnt shadows permanently into sidewalk.

And every time I speak for Him –
The Mountains straight reply –

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow –
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through –

What’s scary about this set of images is a tide of reversals: the would-be human is converted to a gun, which then conducts a would-be ‘human’ circuit of communication, complete with speaking, replying, smiling, and showing one’s pleasure on the face. This circuit of communication transfers human duplicity to the landscape; anthromorphized, the landscape now is capable of  inflicting the violence with a human-like duplicity—the “Valley glow” shed by the “Vesuvian face” being the destructive expression of a volcano which, like human bombs, freezes human time.

The poem is a series of transpositions, transfers, embodiments and re-embodiments—human and machinic, human and landscape, “I” and “he”. These entites saturate, split, take the place of each other, reflect on each other in the solipsism of violence. So oscillating is this solipsism that time can’t quite conduct itself through the thick material. In the final two stanzas:

To foe of His – I’m deadly foe –
None stir the second time –
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye –
Or an emphatic Thumb –

Though I than He – may longer live
He longer must – than I –
For I have but the power to kill,
Without–the power to die–

In the first stanza we see the anachronistic properties of this violence. The first two lines are a kind of boast, yet the second two lines work backwards—we get the ‘yellow eye’—the flash from the gun’s report—and THEN the thumb on the trigger. It’s as if the film runs backwards as in a 90’s style britpunk movie, violence (and the poem) stores itself back up in the gun’s trigger again. “None stir the second time”, but the first time reverses itself and is ready to repeat.

The final stanza piles anachronism upon anachronism and ultimately sends this reader’s eye rooting backwards up the poem, thus enacting its own recoil and repeat. The difference between “may” and “must” seems critical here. If our speaker is fully converted to machine here, a kind of immortality, this immortality converts backwards; may becomes “must” and forces “he” into immortality along with her, through her undeadness. The violence is permanent (tho also an instability) and gathers every party up into its shock—shooter, target, and gun.

This powerful assemblage reverberates all the way up the body of the poem, crushing and reforming its polarities with its undead, undying shock. If the poem is the textual body of the speaker, the vessel of its “I’, then this poem now becomes the field of its machinic unions, its becoming, its undead deadly-ness, its spasming emphaticness. The speaker cannot die because, though deadly, dead-ish, full of death, she can ever complete this moment of becoming dead; the poem cannot die because it never completes its moment of assembling all it touches into the expanding field of its exploding body.

In this sense, the iconic poem performs as a suicide bomber– “the power to kill/without the power to die”- that is, to complete the dying.

The candidate for martyrdom transforms his or her body into a mask that hides the soon-to-be-detonated weapon. Unlike the tank or the missile that is clearly visible, the weapon carried in the shape of the body is invisible. Thus concealed, it forms part of the body. It is so intimately part of the body that at the time of its detonation it annihilates the body of its bearer, who carries with it the bodies of others when it does not reverse them to pieces. The body does not simply conceal a weapon. The body is transformed into a weapon, not in a metaphorical sense but in a truly ballistic sense. – Achille Mbebe, quoted in Jasbir Puar, “Queer Times, Queer Assemblages”.

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L.H.O.O.Q.

by on Nov.07, 2012

Given:

 

 

Two times in the last week I’ve done something I’m ashamed of. I’ve never watched a snuff film but I have, in the last week, looked at the ‘snuff’ equivalent—two photographs of young teenaged girls whose sexual exploitation, recorded in these photographs, was linked to their deaths.

One photograph was of Amanda Todd; at the vulnerable age 12, she flashed her breasts to a persuasive pedophile in a chatroom. He hounded her thereafter with the picture- -circulating it at her school, posting it as his Facebook picture, recirculating it each time she switched schools. After vicious bullying, self-harm, and a suicide attempt, Todd succeeded in killing herself, but not before recording an online video suicide note in which she told, on note cards, in heartbreaking teenaged handwriting, the story of her exploitation, harassment and death. I came across knowledge of Amanda Todd through a squib at the New Yorker.

The other photograph was of Regina Walters.I came by knowledge of Walters’ death via the GQ article ‘The Truck-Stop Killer’ by Vanessa Veselka. (continue reading…)

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Locked up in the Necropastoral: Michal Chelbin's Sailboats and Swans

by on Nov.02, 2012

“Two inmates sentenced for violence and theft, Juvenile Prison for Girls, 2008”

“Yana sentenced for theft. Juvenile Prison for girls, Ukraine, 2009” Michal Chelbin

Depending on the havoc struck by Sandy, the Andrea Meislin Gallery in New York will be displaying Michal Chelbin’s striking photography show “Sailboats and Swans” until December 22. The title refers to the pastoral and fantastic fabrics and wallpapers which clothe the bodies and prisons in which Chelbin’s subjects, juvenile and female offenders, are incarcerated.  In the irrational pastoralia of these cellblocks, boys sleep in military barracks under bucolic murals; girls convicted for assault pose in flowered dresses.  The press release suggests,

These contradictions of life in prison abound in girls’ flowery dress prison uniforms, murderers working as nannies to other women’s babies in the new mothers’ prison, young girls serving time alongside grandmothers – perhaps witness to their own futures, and the mesmerizing human blend of fear and cruelty in the boys’ and mens’ prison – where big tattooed bodies are now zombie-like, worn down by the daily travails of trying to survive being locked up in a world devoid of hope.

With Sandy’s necropastoral proliferation bringing its damage to Manhattan, I’m sure none of our New York Montevidayans can take in this show for me and report back. But many images from this show are available on- line, and I find them extremely moving. In the ‘noplace’ of prison these incredibly youthful bodies are suspended from temporal linearity. The prisoners are “witness to their own futures” randomly removed from and reassigned new biological roles (murderers minding the babies of other mothers), locked up in kitsch landscapes in which fabrics and wallpaper have as much (or as little) agency as the human bodies themselves. The faces of the models are impassive yet something sears from these photographs, a force of life and/or death which, in the no-time of prison, can find no natural body but courses from surface to surface, form to form, looking for an egress but only finding the picture plane. As Artaud notes, “A little dead girl says: I am the one convulsed with horror in the live woman’s lungs. Get me out of here at once. ” The pain entrapped in these photos cannot exit through a punctum but saturates every object, frond, fabric, and form within the photo itself, everything trapped in its pane, like the bubble in Bishop’s Sonnet who can only find egress from the poem in that final exclamation point:

Caught – the bubble
in the spirit-level,
a creature divided;
and the compass needle
wobbling and wavering,
undecided.
Freed – the broken
thermometer’s mercury
running away;
and the rainbow-bird
from the narrow bevel
of the empty mirror,
flying wherever
it feels like, gay!

Perhaps pain is like this frantic bubble, trying to push out of the photo via a Barthian punctum, yet finding its level always cruelly replenished, its impossible economy never reduced.

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