Against “Context”: New Essay on Translation

by on Mar.03, 2015

I have a new essay, “Toward a Sensationalistic Theory of Translation.”

In many ways it’s a response to Mia You’s review on Kim Hyesoon’s Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream published in Book Forum a while back. You basically made the argument that we (the American readers of Kim Hyesoon) were “gross sensationalist” because we lacked the proper context for understanding her work.

I picked up on this critique and turned it around because I think the idea of context as a stable, determining force has become pervasive in our culture – both in discussions fo poetry and translation, but also wider culture – and that this is an incredibly simplistic idea of the way art works. The context-model posits that context basically determines “meaning” of a work of art. As a result, translation becomes impossible. Instead we get “gross sensationalism” and “appropriation.”

(I’ve even been accused of appropriating Swedish poetry, which I think is a really interesting charge because it makes clear the problems that not just translations, but immigrants, cause to this model of “context.” And authors – as I mention in the Volta essay – are not always (or even mostly) central figures of some kind of monoglossic illusion of “central”, true language/culture, often existing in peripheries and crossing all kinds of borders.)

Rather than stealing or decontextualizing, what translation – and art! – does is continually forge next contexts. Don Mee Choi and Action Books have for example forged a lot of contexts for reading Kim Hyesoon’s work. There is not one true meaning of Kim Hyesoon’s poems that can be gained from some supposedly stable idea of Korean culture (the instability of ideas of “context” is actually brought out in You’s essay since she questions some common ideas of Korean culture in the US); there is in fact no one true context for reading her work. In one recent interview (in South Korea) for example, she talks apprecriatively about what an essay I wrote about her work as “gurlesque” for the Swedish journal 10-tal, discussing how this brings out the important figure of “the girl” in her work. This is how poetry work: it constantly brings artworks into contact with readers and writers, creating new “contexts” for reading.

This doesn’t mean we should forget about the fact that Kim Hyesoon is a Korean poet, and that Don Mee Choi translated her. That is why I invoke Joyelle’s and my phrase “deformation zone,” a booklet we wrote for Ugly Duckling in which we argued that artworks are deformation zones (“appropriating” this terms from Aase Berg’s Swedish poem) that includes various contexts and deformations and translations and forgeries.

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“Jack Nicholson’s mind is possessed. Like my body, my dress.”: on Sara Tuss Efrik’s “Night’s Belly”

by on Jul.23, 2014

Johannes asked me to talk about my translation of Sara Tuss Efrik’s “The Night’s Belly” (Nattens Mage), a hellish three-part fairy tale of wombs and charred rooms that draws on Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the story of Sleeping Beauty (or Thorn Rose; Little Briar Rose), Little Red Riding Hood, and possibly even Polanksi’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). “There are plots against people, aren’t there?” This is the question a frantic, phone booth-encased Rosemary desperately asked after being cruelly deceived by her husband. In “The Night’s Belly,” Efrik’s female protagonist similarly carries a child of unknown origin. A swelling devil-red child—sometimes described as having pincers, or flapping wings. A throbbingly painful monstrosity. Possibly the child of her husband’s “red mistress” (who later evolves into more of a Macbeth-style witch-mistress), Efrik’s protagonist continuously obsesses over the unfaithful husband’s activities:

“The nipples smarted, the pubic hair frizzed up. Paranoia melts and is redistributed, transformed into small graftings of screaming creatures. Girl dolls, logs. Everything gets mixed together. The heat pushes moisture out of the skin, surfaces glow teasingly. The husband finds himself on the African continent, in a city of solidified lava. White jeeps cross paths with starving dogs, gospel music flows out of Pentecostal churches, overcrowded hopsitals have locked their gates. The suicidal husband drives around with a sweet slut. They are going to climb Nyiaragongo. I expand the image, a widening circle, it whirls, a treasonous ring dance around that which burns. More and more sluts. A mass of eggs, explosions, a burning sky, a spray of shrapnel across our bodies.”

The first section, “Red Mistresses (Retreat),” poises readers to flow “valve after valve” through a paranoid pipeline of lava-like sewage. A montage of excrement. A language of shit. An age of drug-induced decay. The protagonist’s womb is volcano-like. Logs of “girl dolls” burn up on the fire. Her unborn child appears to be violently attached to her like ropes of pahoehoe.

“The Shining played on a television as we fucked. Because Nyiaragongo burned my husband’s body. From beneath the eggshell roars a burning river. My body is not a knife. Or an alternative. My only choice is exorcism. Anything to avoid melting.”

The notion of the child in “The Night’s Belly” appears to be something more akin to Cronenberg’s “psychoplasmic” children of The Brood (1979) or the supernatural occurences in The Exorcist (1973). Efrik’s body of text gradually begins to resemble the hauntings of Kubrick’s own labyrinthine mise-en-scene. The protagonist’s swollen belly ambushes the reader with appropriations of Kubrick’s occult hotel, which include the trance-like repeat of the Grady twins as well as moments of repetition reminiscent of Jack’s typewriter antics. (“i am no one / it’s not a secret anymore / not a chore anymore / not a secret chore anymore / i do not know who i am anymore”) Author Robert Luckhurst has noted the ways in which Kubrick embedded violent pieces of his own troubled self (i.e. his maddening need for multiple takes, the inclusion of his personal typewriter, his habit of tossing a baseball against a wall) into The Shining. Efrik’s protagonist appears to be wrestling with a similar blurring of identity:

“I am a creature’s surrogate mother. I fertilize it with female twin filled hallways. Fertilization, an infinite hotel. And everything is there. The child’s red mothers. The child’s father. I am also there. There is also a nursery. I hide myself beneath a blanket of solidified lava. I hide there among animal limbs and sawn off pipes of bone. My twin filled stomach valves (a goosefoot valve, a pizzeria valve, a vulgar valve), perfected overnight. Cavities enable my ascent. Mistresses! Come and save me, pull me out of myself!”

(continue reading…)

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The Latina Gurlesque vs. Everyone Else: A Preface to a Reading Against the White House of Enlightened Poets (this Friday in NYC!)

by on Jul.09, 2014

AMIGAS, get ready for the World Cup of all poetry readings!  The throw-down featuring Jennifer Tamayo, Monica McClure, and me will be in NYC this Friday, 7:30pm, at the Bureau of General Services-Queer Division (details here).


de Lima, Tamayo, and McClure (possibly not in that order) getting warmed up

Me and my superstar fellow readers, I must point out, are not battling each other as opponents.  Far from it, we’re joining forces as the one and only LATINA GURLESQUE, a luminous, feminist, outrageous decolonial parade.  Taking a SPICY, CALIENTE line of flight south of the original Gurlesque anthology, our aesthetic already throbs in contemporary performance art.  Consider the mystic genitalia and unholy queer ‘spictacles’ of La Chica Boom:

ChicaBoom_Background_Virgen (continue reading…)

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Gurlesque-ing Bergman: More on “Persona Peep Show”

by on Jun.16, 2014

I want to follow up on James’s great post about Persona Peep Show with a post about the most obvious topic relating to the film: that is “fan-fictions” or “kitsches” Ingmar Bergman’s supposed Masterpiece Persona (a lot of the text is in fact from Bergman’s movie). What Mark Efrik Hammarberg and Sara Tuss Efrik picks up on in their remake of Bergman’s movie as “peepshow” is exactly the scandal of the image that James talks about in his post, the “peep-show-ness” of Bergman’s movie. And like many fan fictions (this is why I’m drawn to this para-genre) it takes this elements and blows it up, pushes it out of balance, find the excess, the ghosts, the pornography in the masterpiece.

Their peepshow fan fiction was first shown as part of the gurlesque-themed 2013 Stockholm Poetry Festival, and it revels exactly in the kind of mask-playing, superficiality and viscerality that has caused so many people to be troubled by the gurlesque.


Like James, I think Steven Shaviro’s a wonderful reveling in cinematic fascination. Shaviro points out that what troubles people about cinema is often this flatness of the image, which has no interiority but which nevertheless is tend to cause fascination, a strong bodily response (which as he points out is often seen as apolitical but which can be highly political).

(continue reading…)

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Provincialism at its Limits: On Stephen Burt’s Very US-American “Nearly Baroque”

by on Apr.18, 2014

Leaving aside the poets in Stephen Burt’s article  the “Nearly Baroque” in the Boston Review, I think it’s really interesting how his model is founded on deficiency.  That is, Burt defines his aesthetic category adverbially by its lack, its mere approximation, when the baroque by definition is primarily about fullness.


Mi gente, there is even such a thing as the Ultrabaroque, the supercharged flipside to Burt’s starved oxymoron.

In response to Burt, Joyelle wrote the following in her Poetry Foundation post “I Want to Go All the Way”:

….there is only a glancing mention, a name-checking, of the Latin American category of the Neo-Baroque. Investigation of Latin American authors, many of which have now been translated, could have lead to an interesting conversation regarding what it means that this literary style is emerging from across so many different regions, ethnicities, languages, across economic, historical & political conditions. That feels like a missed opportunity and a false erecting of a boundary. But more pressing to me is Steve’s insistence on “nearly” and “almost” throughout the piece. I counted, VIDA-style: 32 instances of “nearly,” 12 instances of “almost.” Why is it important for Steve to mark the border this way, to locate his poets on just this side of the Baroque? Just North of the Baroque? So far from God, ever-so-close-to-but-still-distinguishable-from the Baroque? Is he holding back, or are they? And why?

After mulling over Joyelle’s questions, I went all the way, adding to them.  Why does Burt bother with the baroque in the first place?  Instead of meeting the baroque halfway, why not come up with a more tailored concept (a la the Montevidayans) like the Gurlesque, the Necropastoral, or Atrocity Kitsch?  Or even Burt’s own “elliptical poetry” or “the New Thing”? Then it occurred to me just how important lack in the “Nearly Baroque” may be.  I think the ‘nearly’ of his taxonomy troubles it in ways that Burt doesn’t actually intend.  In its admission to not quite living up to Severo Sarduy or Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the “Nearly Baroque” reads like the ultimate symptom of American literary provincialism.

A provincialism the term itself takes to its limit, nervously marking it.  As if the boundaries that prop up jingoist navel-gazing had to finally dissolve. (continue reading…)

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Exploded Tranströmer: On Ye Mimi and Translation

by on Feb.25, 2014

The past few months I’ve been reading and re-reading the little chapbook His Days Go By the Way Her Years by the young Taiwanese poet and filmmaker Ye Mimi – and translated beautifully by Steve Bradbury and published beautifully by Anomalous Press.

You can read some of the poems here.

A few months ago, after she came back from the Hong Kong poetry festival, Aase Berg wrote to me that she had come across an amazing poet: Ye Mimi. (Apparently YM appeared with a very impressive guitar player as well.)
That is funny because when I first read Ye Mimi what came to my mind was a somewhat controversial article Aase wrote in Expressen after Tomas Tranströmer won the Nobel Prize the other year:

I have already begun to view Tranströmer’s poetry – purely internally, in my brain – as kitsch. That makes it easier for me to communicate with it because I see kitsch as something generative: banality and surprising intelligence in unexpected union. The idea of Tranströmer’s images as kitschy allows me to associate to other images, instead of getting stuck in an image mysticism which may seem chokingly water-tight.

Ye Mimi’s poems are wonderful in that way: as “banality and surprising intelligence in unexpected union.” In fact they read a little like Tranströmer poems in which the metaphors flip out, go off in tangents. And a Tranströmer poem in which the tenor of the metaphor is not privileged – not over the vehicle, not over the “banal” everyday stuff (pink hoodies, telephone booths etc).

My favorite Tranströmer poem is “To Friends Behind a Border”

To Friends Behind A Border

I wrote so sparsely to you. But what I couldn’t write
swelled and swelled like an old-fashioned zeppelin
and drifted at last through the night sky.

Now the letter is with the censor. He turns on his lamp.
In the glow my words fly up like monkeys on grille
rattle it, become still, and bare their teeth!

Read between the lines. We are going to meet in 200 years
when the microphones in the hotel walls are forgotten
and finally get to sleep, become orthoceras.

Part of what I love about this poem is how lovely and ridiculous his famous metaphors are here: the letters become monkeys (like in a Disney fantasia), the spy-microphones becomes fossils.

This element of goofy-brilliant metaphors are all over Ye Mimi’s work:

but he is bored to pieces and has to have a smoke
a ghost nods off beneath the blackboard tree in a punitive gesture the kittens are made to crouch in tummies
we are mortified at vomiting a layer of sea
the skin of which could not be whiter

(from “And All the Sweat is Left There”)

One big difference is that Ye Mimi’s work is more flippant, following the odd metaphor off in different directions, creating an effect like Exploded Tranströmer.
(continue reading…)

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Japanese Gurlesque: Molly Bendall on Kazuko Shiraishi

by on Nov.25, 2013

Kazuko Shiraishi Molly Bendall


The Gurlesque has been blowing its pink and black bubbles in Japan in various ways for the last 40 or 50 years. In particular, I am thinking of the visual artist Yayoi Kusawa, who as early as the 60’s made her polka-dot habitats and gold-spray-painted furniture with flowers and phallus shapes sprouting from it. And, of course, I am thinking of Yoko Ono, who performed her Cut Piece first in 1965.



Also active in the scene was the poet Kazuko Shiraishi who was publishing her risqué, outlandish poems in Japan in the 60’s and early 70’s. In 1973 she was invited to spend time at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. She was championed by Kenneth Rexroth, who translated some of her work (along with others) into English. Her book Seasons of Sacred Lust was published at Rexroth’s urging by New Directions in 1978. The book consists partly of long erotic, jazz-inspired “descents” that at once lament estrangement, chit chat, and pay tribute to an urban night-time hedonism. Among the titles of the lengthier poems: “The Man Root,” “Seasons of the Sacred Sex Maniac,” and the homage “Dedicated to the Late John Coltrane.” Here’s a section of that one in which you can see her improvisatory abandon where spacey, surreal, and smutty morph fluidly:

With your extremely heavy
And short pilgrimage
Full of fleeting eternity
Spirit traveling
You were mainly blowing thoughts
Thoughts are eyes, wind
Cascades of spicy sweat
Streaming down your forehead
Thought is an otter’s scream
The sexual legs of chickens
Killed by your old lady
Boiling in a pot
Women’s pubic hair
Alice or Aisha
Thoughts are the faceless songs
Of pink stars
Squirming in the sky
Of every woman’s womb

On the cover of Seasons of Sacred Lust, Kazuko Shiraishi appears in a patchwork of photos. Posing with satin blouses, fans, flowers, cat-eye makeup, and in one holding a microphone, she’s a provocateur. She often performed her poems with jazz accompaniment and would recite, as she said, in her “Samurai movie voice.” She said that Allen Ginsberg, John Coltrane, and Henry Miller were all inspirations.
But there’s certainly something else, something girly and grotesque and blushingly brutal in her work. Reading her is kind of like getting your cards read at a motorcycle/go-go club by Hello Kitty and Chococat. This is not meant to diminish her work; it’s worth considering her stance, which is willingly naïve at times and lets in a wider range of sensitivity. Here’s a little of “The Man Root”:

Sumiko, I’m sorry
But the penis shooting up day by day
Flourishes in the heart of the cosmos
As rigid as a wrecked bus

Other short lyrics in the book appear with animal titles. She creates these mini-
beast masques, a sort of sexualized anime.


That man is a rhinoceros-oyster
He is so big and strong,
But with a heart like a delicate petal.
Don’t be cold to him
Don’t fall in love with him for fun!
If you love him seriously
You will know that
Nothing could be more fearful
Than his love, a love of an oyster-rhino.
If he ever discovers
You are unfaithful, Carmen,
He will take you down the road to death
On his horn,
Instead of kissing you with his gentle eyes.
Don Jose is a rhino-oyster.

Like Yoko Ono and Yayoi Kusama, Kazuko Shiraishi is still producing in her eighties. Her most recent book My Floating Mother, City came out from New Directions in 2009. The Gurlesque lives on:

I can no longer become six nipples, nor a male with a tail
time is moonlight in front of the graveyard
the Doberman’s syle Debussy music becomes a raging storm
whooaah whooaah
coming into now the joy without even the smell of death
on top of hot raspberry soup becomes a vanilla ice-cream girl
(“April is the Melancholy of a Doberman’s Nipples”)

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Some Thoughts About: The Gurlesque, Plath, Olga Ravn, Kim Yideum, Matilda Södergran and Sara Tuss Efrik

by on Oct.16, 2013

I’m supposed to write an essay about the gurlesque for the upcoming issue of the Swedish journal 10-tal. One thing I want to talk about is the importance of Sylvia Plath. Of course not the cleaned-up Plath that various scholars have tried to make into a master craftswoman over the past few decades, but the “problematic” Plath who blurs life and art, mythic suicide with art, the sleazy Plath of b-movies and fashion magazines, the Surrealist-influenced Plath, the ekphrastic Plath, the Plath of holocaust kitsch, the Plath beloved by teenage girls, the Plath quoted by Francis Bean Cobain in a recent tweet. In short, a gurlesque Plath.
Maybe I’ll talk about Judy Grahn’s amazing homage to that kitschy Plath, “I Have Come To Claim Marilyn Monroe’s Body”:

… They wept for you
and also they wanted to stuff you while
you still had a little meat left in useful places
but they were too slow.

Now I shall take them my paper sack
and we shall act out a poem together:
“How would you like to see Marilyn Monroe,
in action, smiling, and without her clothes?”
We shall wait long enough to see them make familiar faces
and then I shall beat them with your skull.
hubba. hubba. hubba. hubba. hubba.

Maybe I’ll talk about my meeting with the scholar who didn’t think Plath had any influence on contemporary poetry. I wrote about this some time ago: how he put all of Oppen’s work on the PhD comps list but had taken Plath off. Didn’t know about the gurlesque, didn’t know about any of the myriad of contemporary poets influenced by Plath. When I told him that’s because the field of contemporary poetic has become – post-lang-po – so narrowly defined that Plath is not part of it, he got upset and accused me of conservative populism a la Poetry Foundation. The truth is of course that the gurlesque is a word that points out the larger move toward maximalism and the grotesque, the kitschy and over-done (“too much”) that I at least find the most interesting poetry going on today.

An important features of this maximalism, this gurlesque is how international it is; how it’s not really a movement (which suggests a center, organization) but incredibly widespread, it’s really part of a kind of maximalist movement (that also is not limited to women). And it’s important to me that we don’t see it as an American thing. Even when Arielle Greenberg coined that word there were things that could be called gurlesque happening all over the place – from my point of view, most notably in Sweden and South Korea with people like Aase Berg and Kim Hyesoon. The word “gurlesque” does not function for me the way say “language poetry” did – it’s not a set America export (where the US is undeniable central) but a way of calling attention to not just an aesthetic but a connection, a conversation across language boundaries and cultures.
(continue reading…)

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Swedish Gurlesque

by on Aug.30, 2013

My last post for the Poetry Foundation is now up. It’s about teh use of the concept/word “Gurlesque” in Sweden and some poets that I think the term does a good job of providing a framework for, Sara Tuss Efrik and Stina Kajaso.

Here’s an excerpt:

“The book has stirred a powerful reception in Sweden, generating a lot more high-profile discussion of the word “Gurlesque” than happened in the U.S. (while in the U.S. there has been a lot of blog discussions, it seems the gatekeepers of high culture have done a good job of keeping it out). There have been articles in pretty much all the major Swedish newspapers as well as a bunch of web journals and blogs. The prominent web journal Ett lysand namn recently published a special issue devoted to the Gurlesque (an essay by me appears in this volume, in English).

In an extensive essay on the gurlesque in Dagens Nyheter (what might be called The New York Times of Sweden), which partially responds to Österholm’s book and partially to new books by the writers like Lidija Praizovic, Lina Hagelbäck and Sara Tuss Efrik, the prominent Swedish poet Anna Hallberg writes: “But what happens when the doll game flips out? If it takes over? If the roles it stages are not pedagogical or constructive, but grotesque, perverse and violent? In feminist theory, this form of artistic expression is called Gurlesque.” She concludes: “When Aylin Bloch Boynukisa writes in ‘The Geneology of the Girl Organ’: ‘I change course with my porcelain eye/my blinking gigantic doll eye,’ it’s a change of course I can believe in.””

It is interesting to see how the word/concept has had a much different reception in Sweden than in the US, where I think it’s been incredibly influential even as scholars and editors have pretty much kept it out of official discussions of “the field” of contemporary poetry. There are many reasons for this: the fact that Sweden tends to be more interested in feminism (it is as Julian Assange pointed out, “the Saudi Arabia of feminism”), the fact that many of Sweden’s leading poets and writers (Aase Berg, Ann Jäderlund, Johan Jönson, Katarina Frostensson etc) were working in the realm of the grotesque and gothic while the US critical establishment has done everything it can to erase such tendencies. But most important I think is that in Sweden, the mass media and the “high culture” establishments tend to be more receptive to popular changes. They don’t see themselves controlling the discourse, like American leading critics and editors, but responsible to report on it. The result is in many ways a more dynamic discourse around contemporary poetry. On the positive side for the US, this controlled discourse has led to the proliferation of small presses. Something that has, incidentally, only recently started to happen in Sweden, but interestingly, two powerful instances of Swedish small press presses are the gurlesque-friendly feminist presses Dockhaveri and Rosenlarv.

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"Swallowed Repulsion": Johan Jönson's Soiled Conceptualism

by on Aug.08, 2013

While offering a more nuanced perceptive affect in poetry, Cal Bedient’s recent critique of Conceptual Poetry ultimately seems to fall into a trap set up by the Conceptual rhetoric: that the difference between conceptual poetry and non-conceptual poetry is the difference between “thinking” and “reading,” between the head and the heart. Not only is this –as many people, including pro-conceptual types, pointed out in responses to Bedient’s essay – a false dichotomy, but it also prevents Bedient from putting enough pressure on the word “affect,” a term that has become a convenient catch-all word for various academic discussions. But this criticism is also a bit misplaced because it’s a binary that Conceptualism itself set up: thinkership as the opposite of readership. To read is to be stupid: overwhelmed, absorbed. To “think” is to be clean. You don’t even need to read our texts, says Kenny Goldsmith.

Instead of writing about the very academically accepted and promoted regulars among Conceptual poets, I’d rather talk about one of my favorite poets, the Swedish conceptual poet Johan Jönson, who is not only more extreme in his production than any of the American poets I’ve ever read (or thinked about) but who also really pushes me to consider “affect” very seriously, and very affectedly. Unlike Kenny Goldsmith’s hygienic thinkership model of reading, Swedish conceptual writer Johan Jönson’s work follows James Pate’s words from the other day: “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.” Jönson’s poetry is often an attack on capitalism, but one that cannot maintain the distanced stance of critique so often advocated by American experimental poetry. The poetry generates a violent ambience that explodes with capitalist urges and fears. Instead of the cool thinkership of American conceptualism, Jönson pulls the reader into an intensive zone where affect violently pulls in self and other, fantasy and reality, masculinity and masquerade.

how can i describe the shame
over my repeated poverty?

it’s hard. Maybe.
it’s possible to compare it to the repulsion.
that follows
one’s own body. that
which has become the swallowed repulsion.


For me Jönson’s poetry exists in that zone of “swallowed repulsion” – you have to get rid of it but you can’t. There is no epiphany, no transcendence, no critique, just a violent impossibility. But as readers we cannot make it into an easy cliff-notes “concept,” we have to plow through 1243 pages of; we have to try to spit out the poems but we can’t. Unlike Goldsmith’s books you don’t have to read [supposedly, I actually find them a quite vivid reading experience], Jönson gives us:

An author who cannot read his own text.

A book that cannot be reduced.

A book that has become the day, the days’ days.


This book’s devouring.

(continue reading…)

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Francis Bean Cobain, The Death of Riot Porn and the Gurlesque

by on Jun.29, 2013

There’s a fantastic Gurlesque issue out on the great Swedish on-line journal Ett Lysande Namn, full of great writing by people like Viktor Johansson, Aylin Bloch Boynukisa and Sara Tuss Efrik. Most of it is Swedish (but I plan to somehow get it translated) but my essay is in English. The title – “I”m wearing my dad’s pajamas to the suicide party” – is from a Francis Bean Cobain tweet (she’s also in the essay).

Here’s the beginning:

“I’m wearing my dad’s pajamas to the suicide party”: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE GURLESQUE

Dear Justin Bieber,

Who put that mask on your face? Does it hurt? Can you get it off? Can you get it off? Are those your real eyes? Who designed the mask? Did it cost a million dollars? Is it made of wool? Someone had posted the photograph on facebook with the heading: “The death of riot porn?” Do you think this was a reference to Pussy Riot, who wore those masks during their protests? What do you think of Pussy Riot? What do you call that phenomena when a cluster of young girls scream and chase you around? Do they riot against your body? Did they pull that mask over your pretty white face?

I’m not joking. There is something porny about those girls. There’s something deathy about those girls. That must be why they frighten so many people. They are totally “under the influence.” They have no human core, no soul: they are all clothes, make-up. Violence moves through them. Like in all those Japanese horror movies. Young girls are so violent with you, you must be constantly hurting, smarting, aching. Do they hurt you with letter openers? Do they re-enact the French Revolution with your body in Tokyo? Why do I always think of letter openers when I think about you in the bathtub? Why are the girls always leading the French Revolutions?

Why are they always listening to New Order while the revolution is filmed? Why am I so sad? Should I ask Freud? Does it have something to do with the riot porn? With the death of riot porn? Isn’t there always something deathy about riots? About porn?

Have you read that poem “Primrose” by Chelsea Minnis?…

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Tytti Heikkinen

by on Jun.28, 2013

Since I’m translating some of these Swedish and Finnish essays about the gurlesque, maybe I should also post some poetry. Here’s the first poem from Finnish poet Tytti Heikkinen’s Fatty XL series (which is part of the book The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal, trans. Niina Pollari, which Action Books just published a couple of months ago).



Gonna say one thing just as soon as this vomiting
Went shopping today for cute shoes. !! Everybody is
gross but be and my friends .

Yestrdy I was into this one dude and tried
prolly too hard
to get near him. He said ur not the one Im looking for.
It broke myyy heaaart.
You betrayed my heart, squeezed it empty like
a sponge… Before everything was the same. No more. i
am in love…

I don’t think it’s even possible to not be
crushin. Everybody has to have someone, who
they can dream about, to love forcefully, even if they don’t even
want to. Thats why I wanna love forever… refrain <3: (Some more poems in Brooklyn Rail.)

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"Soiled in Pink": Mia Österlund on Österholm and the Gurlesque

by on Jun.28, 2013

I thought I would include an excerpt from another in the long line of articles that came out earlier this year about the Gurlesque in Sweden, generated to a large extent by Maria Margareta Österholm’s book about the figure of the Girl in modern Swedish-language literature, as well as a new generation of fantastic authors (including Montevidayo’s Aylin Bloch Boynukisa and Sara Tuss Efrik).

This is from Mia Österlund’s essay “Soiled by Pink – About the Girl in Literature” published in Lysmasken, which is a really awesome Finland-Swedish journal.


It’s about short skirts and lipstick mouths that speak back, it’s about pink, glitter and dolls as feminist literary strategy. About the mad woman in the attic, in the girl room, close to you. It’s about how we read femininity in literature. A model of reading. Where girls can be monsters. And at the same time overwhelmingly pink. It contains a number of view of femininity.

Österholm turns the gaze back to the Swedish-language literature of the 1990s and 00s. Monika Fagerholm’s DIVA (1999) is the hub and offers the central reading tool: the doll laboratory, which is where girlhood can be made and tested. The Swedish language literature is full of girls who wrestle with the demand to be Real Girls. The aesthetic is gurlesque, with an exaggerated femininity (militantly pink), burlesque, grotesque, monstrous. Österholm shows that lying, disgust and cuteness can grow side by side.

The term gurlesque was coined by Arielle Greenberg and Laura (sic.) Glenum to describe an aspect of contemporary American poetry. But the gurlesque also involves Swedish language writers like Monika Fagerholm, Mare Kandre, Inger Edelfeldt, Maria Hede och Pirkko Lindberg. That Lindberg gets a new interpretation is refreshing; her latest novel, Hotel Homesickness, is a brick of 600 pages that shows a galopping girlhood intertwined with Finland’s recent history. Österholm also points to authors who are currently depicting queer girlhoods right now: Sara Stridsberg, Sanne Näsling, Aaase Berg and Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo. Literary criticism and literary science has been lacking tools to deal with the pink-fluffy girlhood with fangs. It was viewed as being smeary, gross, provocative. Queer.

The Gurlesque is an aesthetic that doesn’t comply with dominant collective fictions about femininity and respectability. It is literature that makes a spectacle of itself. In Sanne Näsling’s young adult novel Give up immediately or die (2011) it’s about ritually painting seven layers of lipstick around one’s girl-mouth. In The Dream Department: Additions to the Sexual Theory (2006, Valerie Solanas says: “I consider wearing lipstick a political act.” The gurlesque exaggerates, misunderstands girlhood. It creates assemblages of femininity, feminism, disgust and cuteness. It’s a little like fatso-manifestos, where the fat hangs over the edge of the pants in protest. We have learned to read fat as embarrassing, but what if we read it as a protest? The gurlesque aesthetic picks up on the visual and sensual aspects of literature. Girls move around with other girls, flank girls, and their task is to figure out each other’s contours. Girls give a damn in moderation. Of course they provoke. But they are also over-conforming, laying in bed, passive, where the moderation is exaggerrated in a queer way. They perform a cultural rejection of heterosexuality, oh heavens, with the help of the female grotesque.

Anyway this is a really good article, so if you can read Swedish, or want to translate it in some way, head over and read it.

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