Author Archive

Believe the Hype: Sarah Dowling's Birds & Bees

by on Mar.05, 2013

birds and bees

I want to throw down some hype for Sarah Dowling’s terrific Birds & Bees, recently published by Troll Thread. Birds & Bees is kind of its own hype machine, organized as it is around/after/by two affectively opposed but similarly contagious pop songs: the Temptations’ “My Girl” and Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody.” These two (and possibly other?) songs form the affective technology of the poems in this chapbook, their lyrics and beats pumping through insistently even as the record/CD/MP3 skips/glitches around. Activated by the slithery stop-and-go beat of Aaliyah’s hit, for example, the following poem stutters through a ventriloquism of the song’s hush-hush lyrics, desire reverberating and refracted:

I’ve got to tell you

Can you Can you Can you Can you Boy
grey Boy, I promise you If we and you know
We talk But see dry I don’t know if from
you shouldn’t tell you but if I If maroon I
let you You can’t I’m talking Are you noiseless Boy
I’m not lonely just Is it, Is it Say yes

or say no Cause I really Tell me are
you wet Boy Won’t you If you tell you know
that we’ll Oh real Boy See shouldn’t let you but,
If I If I You can’t tell proud I hope
you crowded Boy I’m not Is it, Is it Cause
I really Tell me are you empty Won’t you And

listen Cause I really need Tell me are you
If I You can’t tell I’m talking difficult I hope
alone Boy I gotta I’m not Is it, is it
Say Is it numerous is it Cause I really Tell
me are you cordial Cause I really You can’t tell
I’m talking further

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Michael du Plessis' The Memoirs of JonBenet by Kathy Acker (reviewed)

by on Feb.22, 2013

My review of Michael du Plessis’ phenomenal book The Memoirs of JonBenet by Kathy Acker is now up over at Tarpaulin Sky. Given its dedication to artifice and kitsch (via doll embodiment), the book should be of interest to Montevidayans. Here’s an excerpt of the review:

These fabricated doll memoirs perform an interrogation of the real. “We’re in fiction,” JonBenet declares halfway through, “which is the best kind of reincarnation there is” (47). Here she returns as a fetching doll child whose adventures in artifice include, in discrete chapters, a love affair with Little Lord Fauntleroy, wherein she drinks candy cocktails and listens to Japanese pop music on his gold crushed velvet couch; a visit to the Denver Art Museum, where she communicates with the Synnot Children through the painting of the same name; a dream in which she turns Goth, goes to school, and encounters Alienated Jock Nerds with toy guns; and a flashback to her bedroom on the night of her death, where the evil Blue Fairy tries to persuade her to become real.

The book’s allegiance to artifice supports not only the roasting of late capitalist Boulder’s snowglobe prison, but also an exploration of the artifice of love. Repeatedly, through character after character, from O from Story of O, to Lovecraft and especially through JonBenet, whose anguish at being spurned by Little Lord Fauntleroy is particularly, hilariously sharp, Du Plessis explores the betrayal experienced when love appears to become fiction. “You never really loved me! It wasn’t real, none of it!” the book screams (I’m paraphrasing). “You aren’t real!” At one point, the Blue Fairy suggests that The Memoirs are “an overblown break-up novel about Boulder that uses [JonBenet] as a metaphor” (93). This seems at least one way of interpreting the book’s sneaky refraction of ‘real’ feeling through doll characters.

 

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Zambreno's Heroines on Fanzine

by on Dec.10, 2012

My review of Kate Zambreno’s excellent third book HEROINES is up now on Fanzine. Here’s an excerpt:

This pattern of men vampirizing their partners’ subjectivities is a central concern of the book: T.S. Eliot writing Vivien(ne)’s hysterical chatter in The Waste Land and subsequently abandoning her; Paul Bowles fictionalizing his marriage with Jane in The Sheltering Sky, a depiction that left her unable to write for years. “Is making someone a character giving them life, or taking it away?” Zambreno asks. Representational vampirism is the stuff that literature is (often) made of, of course; the problem, she makes clear, is that the men in question were championed for aestheticizing their partners’ “madness” while the women themselves were pathologized, institutionalized, and/or forgotten precisely because of it.

In a sense Zambreno is another vampire – in channeling these women she is using them to understand and support her own experience. But Zambreno’s is a reparative vampirism, a depathologizing corrective that identifies and empathizes instead of objectifying. Less reparatively, Zambreno vampirizes her own partner/husband, subverting the gender roles of her precedents by asserting herself as the artist and her partner as muse, their relationship her raw material, not his—even as she is describing the very gendered dynamics of their conflicts: her screaming and throwing things while he retreats into stoicism. Throughout, she interrogates these dynamics, reminding herself that they are playing roles, that John, her partner, is not T.S. Eliot or Scott Fitzgerald: “We might slip into these roles, we might play these ghosts, but we have become aware of this…He tries to listen. We try to learn.”

…Zambreno’s investment in her oppression, as a wife and as a woman writer, whether sympathetic or not, is the book’s greatest strength, and the reason why it will become an enduring text. Except when she celebrates the mainly-women literary blogging community that she helped build, Zambreno’s writing is characterized by cynicism and open hostility. Heroines is a performance of radical negativity, in other words: deploying an indulgent bitterness and a seething resentment, Zambreno refuses to be satisfied with what women writers have been allotted, and she is adamantly, fiercely entitled to more.

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Where a Blade Becomes Horizon by Simone Muench

by on Oct.31, 2012

This riveting film-poem — a screaming, stabbing, puking compendium of some of the most intensely discomfiting moments from horror films captioned with poetry from a variety of sources — was presented by poet and horror aficionado Simone Muench at last year’s Printers Ball in Chicago. I share it with you on this All Hallow’s Eve (tw for violence, gore, vomit). The supermeta eye sequence around 7′ is particularly exciting.

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Free Tilikum, or the Transfiguration of Amber Doll: Radical Passivity in Amber Hawk Swanson’s Doll projects

by on Oct.11, 2012

1.

Others have adopted theories of radical passivity here previously; indeed, the blog is saturated in its submissions to art. These conceptions imbue passivity with agency – or rather, resist this passive/agentive binary altogether, instead recognizing the blurriness of boundaries between subject and object, agency and passivity, domination and submission, toward an aesthetics of mediumicity.

At SDS this year (the Society for Disability Studies conference), Eunjung Kim presented a fascinating paper on radical passivity in relation to sex dolls. The paper, “Why Do Dolls Die? The Power of Passivity and the Embodied Interplay Between Disability and Sex Dolls,” published here, poses a provocative intervention into philosophical debates over personhood recently agitated by Peter Singer’s argument for animal rights, which arrived, disappointingly, alongside a disavowal of the right to life/care of severely disabled (such as “totally unconscious”) humans. Sidestepping the problem of categorizing humanness, Kim turns instead to objects – in this case, sex dolls – with the aim of “undermining efforts to deny a being humanness on the basis of object-like status.” Reading sex dolls as an embodiment of disability in films like Lars and the Real Girl and Air Doll, she explores

how doll bodies make visible and enact passivity in its extreme form, thereby creating a condition for accommodation. The ethics of passivity is to recognize the unmodifiable aspect of object being that enables a subject to become an object to be acted upon, and to actualize the other within the self.  (95)

Lars and Bianca at dinner

Bianca, Lars’ RealDoll companion in Lars and the Real Girl, requires physical care and labor such as being bathed, dressed, and lifted into and out of her wheelchair (102). As those around her work to meet Bianca’s needs and fulfill her desires, they endow her with agentive properties. Bianca’s ability to communicate passively seems to extend offscreen as well – here’s Ryan Gosling in the film’s production notes: “Even when she’s not saying anything, she’s communicating everything. It was amazing to watch” (qtd. in Kim 102).

Dolls like Bianca, who seem to glow with a vital agency all the more powerful for being silent, produce a blurriness between subject and object, active and passive – a betweenness that ultimately proves too uncomfortable for their human companions. “Tellingly,” Kim writes, “their immobility, inaction, incommunicativeness, stupor, and catatonia pose such a dangerous challenge to the able-bodied, normative ontology that the dolls in the films must die” (100). Lars stages Bianca’s suicide by drowning and subsequent funeral, then goes on to pursue a “real” (human-human) relationship.

 

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A Birkensnake 6 Call for Submissions

by on Sep.25, 2012

Since there’s been a lull in content, I thought I’d step in to promote a call for submissions (x7). You may have heard of Birkensnake, the great (and now free) fiction journal edited by Joanna Ruocco and Brian Conn. You may have heard of their Birkensnake 6 project, in which the editors selected six (now seven) teams of co-editors to collaborate on a Birkensnake 6 of their design, with all seven issues to be released simultaneously next summer. Most of the calls for submissions have now been posted — take a look.

I’m excited to be involved in this project as an editor, and pleased to have been paired up with Canadian-Serbian writer/teacher/translater/etc Miodrag Kojadinović. We’ve come up with what we hope is a tantalizing CFS for an issue themed Neverending Tales. Here it is – consider submitting!:

NEVERENDING TALES: MEGAN MILKS AND MIODRAG KOJADINOVIC, EDITORS

We seek short fiction for a Birkensnake 6 devoted to endlessness. That is, we seek fiction that doesn’t end — for instance, cyclical and/or recursive stories, narratives formed after fractals or the ouroboros, whatever neverending forms you can come up with; as well as fiction that explores that which has no end — for instance, stories involving outer space, reincarnation, hauntings, the horoscope, a subway system without end, the experience of neverending displacement, Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, Dino Buzzati’s Seven Messengers, the US War in Iraq, the North Atlantic Garbage Patch … basically anything dealing with the infinite, the immortal, the recurring, the asymptotic, the nomadic, the circuitous, and the moebian.

Send fiction of 8 to 8888 words by March 15, 2013 to our online submissions manager. Feel free to contact us at tales.neverending@gmail.com with questions or for further information.

 

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CFP for Anthology of Transgender and Genderqueer Poetry

by on Oct.20, 2011

Here’s the CFP for the trans/gq anthology that TC Tolbert and Tim Trace Peterson are putting together — more info available here.

Open Call: Anthology of Trans and Genderqueer Poetry

Dear Author,

We want your words.

What is the project: We are creating an anthology. An anthology of the best poems out there by trans and genderqueer writers and we would love to include your work in the book. Our assumption is that the writing of trans and genderqueer folks has something more than coincidence in common with the experimental, the radical, and the innovative in poetry and poetics (as we idiosyncratically define these categories), and with your help we’d like to manifest that something (or somethings) in a genderqueer multipoetics, a critical mass of trans fabulousness.

This anthology is edited by TC Tolbert and Tim Peterson (Trace)—both trans-identified poets. It will be published by EOAGH Books in early 2012, and you can bet it will be widely distributed!

We encourage submissions by people of color, people with disabilities, people educated by life or school or some of both or neither, people with no publications or a gazillion. We encourage bilingual poems, poems by trans folks who are non-native English speakers, poems that do stuff with language we couldn’t even imagine until now. Here’s the deal: we want the best poetry by trans and/or genderqueer identified writers in the galaxy. Please help us make that happen.  Send us your most phenomenal work!

Deadline for Submissions: Nov 30, 2011
What to Submit: 7-10 pages of poetry, and a prose “poetics” statement (see below) in .doc, .docx, or pdf format.  We prefer unpublished poems but will consider previously published work.  Please let us know where, when, and by whom your work has been published when you submit.  Thanks!
Where to Submit: email us at transanthology@gmail.com

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Leon Baham, Brains, Dead Babies (&Now Report #2)

by on Oct.20, 2011

&Now – wasn’t it awesome? I am aiming to stretch out my inspiro – and the swag I picked up (new Birkensnake! new Anna Joy Springer! Joyelle’s Necropastoral chapbook! etc) – at least until the semester’s over and I can climb into radical writing as much as I want.

Among my enthusements:

1) meeting TC Tolbert – what a pleasure! TC is, with Tim Trace Peterson, co-editing an anthology of trans and genderqueer poetry. It’s an incredible, exciting project; trans/gq folks: consider submitting!

2) meeting Leon Baham, whose chapbook Ponyboy, Sigh: A Word Problem (Birds of Lace Press) is one of the most interesting pieces of writing I’ve read recently. Didn’t catch his performance but chatted with him and c. vance at the mixer – awesome folks! Great to meet you.

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Plagues and Carnivals in Delany's “The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals”

by on Sep.20, 2011

As part of a virtual reading group, over the past few months I’ve been working my way through Samuel R. Delany’s Tales of Nevèrÿon series (1979-1987); we’re in the middle of discussing Flight from Nevèrÿon, the third of four books in the series.

Flight from Nevèrÿon includes in it “The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals,” an experimental novel of crisis responding to the AIDS situation in early 1980s NYC. It’s been interesting reading it in the context of recent posts by Joyelle and Johannes on plagues, plague states, and the notion of infectious poetics.

“The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals” is preceded by two other tales in this book, all of which dialectically relate. The other Nevèrÿon books are also a series of linked tales, each describing layers of the fantasy world of Nevèrÿon as it “transition[s] from a barter to a money economy” (Tales 12). Over here we have Gorgik the Liberator freeing slaves and erotically resignifying the iron slave collar he himself once wore; over there we have Pryn, a young barbarian woman who brazenly flies a dragon before embarking on a journey of self-education that will lead her to Gorgik, to the mummers, to a scheming wizard, and more; roving all around is Raven, a rascally, wonderfully überfeminist warrior woman brandishing a double-bladed sword, who pops up here and there leaving shadows for Pryn to conjecture about; among many other characters.
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Radical Transubstantiations: The Mutation of Fortune by Erica Adams

by on Aug.29, 2011

I have much enthusiasm for this book, and I think a lot of you will too.

The Mutation of Fortune is a collection of short tales narrated by an inquisitive, resilient young woman who experiences — and herself produces — a series of strange and fantastic encounters over the arc of the book. Many of these are violent, quite horrifying, and  wonderfully grotesque: in “The Only Rule,” the narrator tells us her sister “has something living inside that comes out only for me” — it has “hair and a big mouth that bites me on different parts of my body.” Other tales tell both of encounter and escape — “From the Throat” describes the narrator’s corporeal resistance to her parents’ pressure to marry:

I began to cough, and felt a thread issuing from my throat. I took hold of this thread with my hand and pulled from my throat the body I had. And as I pulled my old body from my throat I became a beast once more, and lived this way for the rest of my days.

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Like I'm the only one who's in command: Xiu Xiu/Rihanna, "Daphny," & The Path

by on Jul.08, 2011

I’m still thinking through many of the points raised in recent discussions of violence in art on the blog, especially about complicity and the notion of safe spaces (or the refusal thereof) in art. I’ve been wanting to bring in Xiu Xiu, a band that has frequently or constantly explored violence, particularly sexual violence, as well as self-harm, in their work; so their release of a 7” single this week, “Daphny,” was convenient – particularly because the B-side, a Rihanna song, provides another interesting example of art that denies a safe space, actually pulls that safety rug out from under the original song’s feet. So to speak. Given that there is a “safe” version to compare it with, Xiu Xiu’s cover is a pretty obvious example of the kind of deterritorialization that others were talking about in relation to Twin Peaks – and it also works as critique, given the fact of its pairing with an overtly political song, a pairing that seems strategic.

The 7”’s title track, “Daphny,” responds to the experience of a friend of the band who was raped by a police officer while in custody after being arrested for shoplifting. The other track, mentioned above, is a transformative/deformative cover of Rihanna’s “Only Girl (in the World)” – the official video for which Lucas posted a while back.

You can listen to both tracks here.

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The Sluts &/vs Twin Peaks (briefly)

by on Jul.03, 2011

As I’ve noted in comments, I’ve been working on a review/critical essay of Dennis Cooper’s The Sluts, and the connections between Cooper’s work and recent discussions about Twin Peaks, violence, and complicity are compelling. I’m thinking mainly, of course, of the George Miles Cycle and The Sluts. The review hasn’t been accepted yet, and will probably go through revision if/when it is, but here’s a quick excerpt from the draft I just sent off:

The five-novel George Miles Cycle (Closer, Frisk, Try, Guide, Period) explores the eroticization of death amid a swirling confusion of fantasy and reality, and the sex is often as violent and graphically depicted as the murders. Cooper’s cycle presents such transgressions as queer sex, incest, pedophilia, kiddie and snuff porn with uncomfortable rigor and a brutally disengaged tone. Within them, the figure of George Miles circulates, sometimes named George, sometimes taking other names, other forms, but generally figuring as an effeminate young man carrying around a traumatic past, substance abuse problems, and a romanticized death drive, and always inhabiting an unknowable body upon which others can and do enact their fantasies. Many of these fantasies involve death, and the body count is high – though … it’s important to note that a number of the deaths in this cycle are consensual, accidental, or fantastic, and all of them possess a queasy, unstable moral ambiguity. While censure is never absent – the novels’ self-reflexity and Cooper’s self-implication keep it hovering in the air – it certainly doesn’t land. The moral edge of the series is, if thin and treacherous, carefully constructed. The reader does not know where she stands on these events, but she is certainly a participant.

A character similar to George circulates in The Sluts, which largely takes place on a website devoted to reviewing gay escorts. Similar to Laura Palmer, whom Johannes has described as “a site of excess,” The Sluts’ Brad exceeds himself and the boundaries inscribed upon him. The language used by others to describe him is emphatically inconistent (according to the reviews, Brad has seven different heights, four different eye colors, occasionally an exstremely distinct tattoo). But Brad (if there is a “real” Brad, and this remains questionable throughout the novel), unlike Laura Palmer, is still alive (at least, until there is a question of his being alive). Despite his attempts to correct his reviewers’ accounts of things, his own version of events and of his identity is just as incomplete and easily discardable as those of his reviewers. “Brad,” then, is some kind of vacuum character: just as quickly as he’s filled, he’s emptied of meaning. Or maybe more accurately, “Brad,” is some kind of internal organ (potentially the bowels).

Whoever Brad is, he’s apparently so compelling and cute that he incites a number of murder fantasies (so many, in fact, that an offshoot web community, KillNickCarter, is formed to accommodate these desires on less morally ambiguous grounds). In the convo on Johannes’ post, many folks were discussing the instability of Twin Peaks – specifically the notion, discussed by Johannes, Lara, Danielle, and probably other folks, that Lynch creates “no safe space” for the audience to view it. I think I put this into moral terms maybe preemptively, but remain fascinated by the connections between Lynch’s and Cooper’s moral ambiguities and destabilizations.

Cooper works similarly to Lynch, but is perhaps more direct about interrogating the (a)moralities on display in his novels –  or maybe not – it’s been a while, honestly, since I’ve seen Twin Peaks. In comparison with the George Miles books, The Sluts is perhaps the most straightforward of Cooper’s work in addressing morality, maybe because it’s straight comedy in places. The “Board” section, for instance, indirectly comments on Cooper’s work and its reception. From my review:

This section is the most self-reflexive of the novel, and the one which most openly comments on Cooper’s work and its reception; in it, we get a bevy of contrasting opinions about community members’ desires to either kill or save Brad. Perspectives range from recantings like “this whole thing is just sick porn and we’ve all been implicated” (126) to defenses like “our fantasy lives are not a police state” (130), and members express varying degrees of concern over their own morality: “underthegunguy,” for instance, asks, of his desire to see the alleged Stevie Sexed snuff video: “Does that make me an amoral moster? That’s a serious question” (139). When Elaine pops in to say, “Hi, everyone. I’m Brad’s girlfriend Elaine. I think some of you are mentally ill” (130), it seems clear that Cooper is using this polyvocality as a vehicle to air (and mock) some of the grievances he’s received in response to his other novels – accusations that he is sick, amoral, mentally ill, etc. The self-reflexivity through polyphony is tongue in cheek, and teems with ironic jabs aimed at anyone taking the story too seriously.

I wonder where you all might see Lynch (in Twin Peaks and elsewhere) fitting with Cooper in relation to self-reflexivity and comedy (esp in relation to the melodrama/parody/kitsch elements) – also how literature and film can/do work differently as comic vehicles when it comes to (morally/ethically/ideologically? can’t seem to land on the right word) fraught narratives – for instance, with regard to reinscriptions/deformations of dead-girl/female-objectifying tropes or whatever else.

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You and Us Make It Reverse: Itty Bitty Titty Committee’s Bad Drag, MEN’s Simultaneity, & Spahr and Young’s (Re)enactments

by on May.12, 2011

One more post on temporal drag and I’ll shut up about it maybe. This time I’ll approach it through counterexample.

The 2007 film Itty Bitty Titty Committee does some bad drag. That is, its temporal drag is flimsy and unclear about its relationship to feminist history. Directed by Jamie Babbitt (But I’m a Cheerleader!), IBTC chronicles the politicization of a young woman named Anna (Melanie Diaz) in present-day Los Angeles. Over the course of the film Anna moves from working as a receptionist at a plastic surgeon’s office to joining a group of radical queer feminists named the C(i)A (Clits in Action) who plot and enact feminist actions such as spraypainting slogans on offending businesses’ storefronts:

The C(i)A

The film is often charming and exhilarating, especially due to its raucous soundtrack and general exuberance for feminist theater; but it’s ultimately clouded by what I see as an embarrassing nostalgia for riot grrrl, ACT UP, the 90s generally — a nostalgia that doesn’t realize it’s nostalgia. There is no acknowledgment in the film that the 90s already happened, that that period of feminist/queer activism is over. (I’m not saying that feminist and queer activism’s dead, but that it looks much different now.) The datedness of the film is weird and confusing. When, in the film’s climax, the C(i)A manages to slip a papier-mache penis mold onto the top of the Washington Monument and blow it up, then infiltrate a news studio and invade American televisions with the footage, it comes across as a dead punchline to a tired joke.

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