Plagiarist, Thief, Faker

by on Oct.28, 2011

A discussion on plagiarism in the context of Indian English poetry has been started by the poets Sumana Roy, Anindita Sengupta, Aruni Kashyap, Nabina Das and Nitoo Das here. I wonder how much of my resistance to their framing of the issue has been shaped by my encounters with America-land and the poems and discussions and theories it has brought me. Oh what a callow thought. All of it, of course. Where I’ve been is who I am – but I wonder if as an immigrant I’ll always retain a slight anxiety around my (inauthentic) influences? “On Stealing Beauty”, and this is the comment I left:

I am curious about the anxieties that plagiarism brings up in artists. I think collage—the handloom emporium—is great as a method for writing poems, and no less legitimate than writing “original” poems. The question is: should the method be disclosed to the reader? Under what kind of dialogic conditions should any method be disclosed to the reader? Attribution I think is just one way in which literary influence can be disclosed as an agenda or method—we as writers/artists need to think beyond its limitations.
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"like physics, aesthetics is a science whose primary object is signals"

by on Oct.17, 2011

Tweeted by Jussi Parikka and quoted in this interview where Ricardo Dominguez discusses the incredible Transborder Immigrant Tool (TBT). (Of course, unlike Parikka, I believe that physical materiality is not necessary for signaling through the flames.)

“Part of the TBT project is to call into question the northern cone’s imaginary about who has priority and control of who can become a cyborg or “trans” human – and immigrants are always presented as less-than-human and certainly not part of a community which is establishing and inventing new forms of life. When in fact these flowing in-between immigrant communities are a deep part of the current condition that Haraway’s research has been pointing towards – for us it is a queer turn in its emergence, both as unexpected and as desire.” “…the Transborder Immigrant Tool functions …  as dislocative media, seeking to realize the possibilities of G.P.S. as both a ‘global positioning system’ and, … a ‘global poetic system.'” “The performative matrix of TBT allows viral reportage, hate-mail, GPS, poetry, the Mexico/U.S. border, immigrants,  to encounter one another in a state of frisson – a frisson that seeks to ask what is sustenance under the sign of globalization-is-borderization.”

The poetry got Glenn Beck mad, and the artists who were part of the Electronic Disturbance Theatre 2.0/b.a.n.g. lab working on TBT came under three legal investigations – which have now been dropped – but, Dominguez says, “One strange element about the agreement that they wanted me to sign without even giving me or my legal team time to look it over was that I would never speak or write about what had happened, create any artwork that might disturb anyone and refrain from an artivist performances.”


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WUI 2 / Johannes Göransson: Born on the 4th of July

by on Oct.14, 2011

“Art is fundamentally tasteless” (Johannes Göransson)

“It’s a good thing I was born a girl, otherwise I’d be a drag queen” (Dolly Parton)

Reporting live from San Diego, where I’m gazing out from my Surfer Beach Hotel balcony at the pale morning moon hanging over the ocean, a footloose guitarist serenading the surfers, salty breeze stinging my eyes a little—if I were a Cancer, I’d be weeping. Instead, I’m merely a Gemini who’s hounded by Cancers, despite what Sarah C says, including the Cancer in question, even if my experience of this hounding is, at bottom, just a fanciful and elaborate distraction, My Own Private JG you might say. And apparently I’m not the only one who takes issue with Cancers: Mary Anne Carter, in “Astrological Noise” (Supermachine #3), claims “Cancers are the most convicted criminals and have the highest chance of becoming serial killers.”  So that’s unsettling and maybe even true. Some Cancers, the more evolved ones, know how to mediate these rather more grim aspects of their character in places like colonial pageants, animal bodies, masquerades, blog personae, abandoned bible belt warehouses, guinea pig caves where rodential bachanalia translates as black blood that keeps coming and coming, as depth psychologists, poets, mothers, and so on. Humbert Humbert was probably a Cancer, but so might Gregor Samsa have been: oh meow meow Gregor, woke up as a giant beetle?, wah wah wah, get over it! Glitzy American Quilty got your stodgy European knickers in a twist? Queering up your little knee-socked Lo? Oh boo-hoo-hoo.

But let’s not jump to conclusions; destiny is elastic; any inflexible allegiance to freewill is, I considered the other day, just another way to pretend you’re not immortal. Carter adds that “these irrefutable truths taint the delicate, gentle group of you, who upon us exude as a whole a gentle essence…and bitchin’ determinism.” .  And lest we forget, Cancers are the zodiacal mother substance.

Our in-depth and ongoing study into the complex nature of our subject, Johannes Göransson, has preoccupied  much of our creative, intellectual, and occult energies over the course of the past 2 months, but the time has come to share our findings and de-hound. Due to the shock and awe we’re certain these revelations will impose upon the Montevidayan readership, we shall mete it out over the course of the next 48 hours or so, allowing you to absorb it gradually while still making some time to take a surf lesson or occupy Wells Fargo in whatever town you currently find yourself. Below we offer a preview, perhaps even an outline (we’ll see how I feel after surfing), with some multimedia treats, and teasers, to blaze our astrotail.

Johannes Göransson, THIS IS YOUR LIFE

First quarter moon             First quarter moon                         First quarter moon             First quarter moon                      First quarter moon             First quarter moon

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On Proliferation Part B, Having to do with 3.141592653589793238462643383279…

by on Aug.06, 2011

Why to stop where we stop? Why break it off where it’s broken? To round up or down? By what standard? To what place? Pi to the millionth place and still going…this post a continuation that will only trail off after digression, implication, circulation…
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Counterfeit lineages: Kitsch, Immigrants, Translation, Avant-Garde

by on Jun.30, 2011

As I always say: the most famous definition of poetry in US culture is Robert Frost’s quip that poetry is what is lost in translation. (It’s so famous it’s even the title of a blockbuster movie, “Lost in Translation” – which notably is about “poetic effect,” not poetry proper, see my post about McQueen.) And almost as famous is his quip that writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net. The two are of course related: at the core is the idea of poetry as something disciplined and authentic, and that it must be protected against the fake, the lazy, the chaotic, the cheaters, the foreign.

Despite various changes, it seems translation still is kept at the margins of American poetry. Translation is inherently a challenge to the dominant idea of “lineage” (perhaps lineage is inherently “dominant”) in US poetry: poetry is authentic, to write real poetry you have to know the true version of US literary history. Poetry has to be defended against the fake, against kitsch (“hipster poetry” or “soft surrealism” or whatever). You have to have a “good ear” to write poetry – it must come to you naturally.

Here I could offer, as i often do, countless of examples from Ron Silliman and his obsessive lineage-making. Or any number of conservative poets defending their canon and lineage. But I won’t. You’ve heard it all before.

Translation poses a challenge to lineage because it generates excess: an excess of versions (different versions of the same poem? I thought there was “no noise in art”!), excess of authors (how can we keep track of all these authors) and an excess of “lineage.” Etc. If poetry is the authentic, then the translation is the “versioning” of the authentic.

No wonder, Daniel Tiffany has traced the roots of our anti-kitsch rhetoric to counterfeit translations from Romanticism.
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Violent Accessories, Counterfeit Lineages and "Occult Glamour"

by on Jun.28, 2011

I’ve been thinking a lot about kitsch and Alexander McQueen and fashion and Daniel Tiffany’s essays about kitsch. I don’t have any definite conclusions, but I think in these thoughts I am actually thinking about something like lineage and influence – only counterfeit lineages, translated lineages, artificial influences – so I’m going to write a few posts about poetry of “excessive beauty” and “occult glamour,” and I hope that they will tie into both our recent discussions about “the avant-garde” – most importantly the rejection of a contemporary idea of the avant-garde as linear, “rigorous” and high art – and Joyelle’s idea of an anachronistic lineage, a contaminated idea of influence, as well as my recent discussion of kitsch and Daniel Tiffany’s ideas of kitsch. Hopefully in the end we’ll end up with a “kitsched” idea of lineage, of the avant-garde, of poetry.

Some of the works and topics I will broach include Alexander McQueen, Aase Berg’s Dark Matter, Peter Richards’ Helsinki, China Mieville, Dada and Surrealism (“dream kitsch”) and Science Fiction (also “dream kitsch”?). In other words, artworks that have “influenced” me in some ways.
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Contamination (#66): More thoughts on Kitsch and "excessive beauty"

by on Jun.21, 2011

I’ve been meaning to write some responses to all the response I received (here, on facebook, in email) to my post analyzing the anti-kitsch rhetoric of Marjorie Perloff, but I’m taking care of my kids alone while Joyelle is off on her literary international tour and I’m trying to finish translating Aase Berg’s Dark Matter and finish my own “novel” The Sugar Book, so I’m a little short on time. As a result I’ll leave a bunch of shorter replies and hopefully they’ll add up to some kind of sense.

In response to the Perloff post, Daniel Tiffany sent me the first chapter of his next book of criticism, Silver Proxy, which is about kitsch, exploring its historical and theoretical dimensions and applications. It’s much better than my fumblings here on the blog, so I’ll reference it quite a bit. I might also reference Cloning Terror, the latest book by Tiffany’s teacher, WJT Mitchell; it’s a book roughly speaking about the reproduction of images and their relations to the “war on terror.”

A lot of people ask me why I care so much about such a trivial subject matter as kitsch (triviliality itself!) when it obviously has very limited applications to poetry. To this I would say that it’s not trivial at all. Kitsch is fundamentally part of the idea of Taste; it’s the opposite of Taste: not the original and pure, but the contaminated and reproduced. So many discussions about poetry – such as Perloff’s writing – is about establishing the boundaries of taste (we thought Merwin was a good poet, but no, he’s as kitschy as “Longfellow” etc).

Tasteless/anti-kitsch criticism is very effective. I remember being in college and reading a lot of language poetry, which led my to Perloff and the result of this is that I stopped writing because I internalized the anti-kitsch critique and thought what I was writing (Surrealist-influenced, Plath-influenced, kind of like what I write now) was in poor taste. Then I thought through the criticism, embracing a certain tastelessness and I started writing again, and that’s also when I started thinking more about the position of the “immigrant,” a trope you may have noticed that I use almost interchangeably with “art.” And “kitsch.” And also “spazzy.”
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Joe Arpaio, performance artist

by on Jun.18, 2011

I’m in Minneapolis at Netroots Nation, the lefty bloggy conference affiliated with Daily Kos that’s in Minneapolis this year. Yesterday, I was on this panel: Educate, Agitate, Inspire: How Artists are Fighting Anti-migrant Hate, a panel about the anti-migrant crackdowns in Arizona and more generally about the role of culture and artists in progressive change campaigns. The all-star panel featured Gaby Pacheco, who walked from Miami to Washington D.C. to raise awareness of the Dream Act; Javier Gonzales, the organizer in charge of The Sound Strike, the AZ musicians boycott initiated by Rage Against the Machine, and artist Favianna Rodriguez, founder of She did the poster on the left, which you can buy by clicking on the image.

I began my section by saying that there’s been an incredible cultural worker who’s dominated the cultural change campaign in Arizona–the only problem is that he’s on the other side. Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio is the performance artist of the decade.

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Contamination (#9): the immigrant, the clone, the porn star etc

by on Jun.13, 2011

I’m reading WJT Mitchell’s book on the War on Terror, and specifically the Abu Ghraib photographs. In the book he views those photos as a kind of coming-together of the war on terror and the war on cloning, which was the Republicans favorite cause (do you remember?) before 9/11 gave them enough cause to start invading nations etc. Anyway, here’s a great paragraph about the kind of anxiety that I was trying to define when I was talking about my idea of the immigrant as kitsch and why the immigrant seems to pose a threat, as well as connecting it to a number of other figures of similar “counterfeit” character:

“… It would be reassuring if Dolly the Sheep was a wolf in shee’s clothing. The idea of a sheep in sheep’s clothing is more disturbing, but why? Is this the lamb of god? Or an imposter? Doesn’t the Antichrist come as the double or clone of the true Christ? The fear of difference, of the stranger, the monster, the alien is what might be called a “rational” fear, or at the very least, a fear that has a determinate object or image. The racial or gendered other is (with the notable exception of homosexuality, wo twhich we will return) visibly marked as different and distinguishable. But the true terror arises when the different arrives masquerading as the same, threatening all differentiation and identification. The logic of identity itself is put in question by the clone.” (34)

Later on he does return to homosexuality, specifically the first gay porn star, whose artist name was actually “The Clone.”

It’s true. There he is.

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Asian American Writers' Workshop: We're hiring

by on May.12, 2011

Hi there. Johannes is always telling me that I should post more about my organization, The Asian American Writers’ Workshop. I’ll do another post that’s more detailed, but I thought that Montevidayo readers might appreciate a job opening we have: we’re hiring a Managing Director for our website–it’s a dream job, really, and the “things we like” list below also gives a sense of our quirky, eclectic, warm, progressive curated “brand.” The application also links to two hyper-local new media initiatives we have: Open City: Blogging Urban Change and Wordstrike: Writers Against SB1070. Anyways, anyone who’s interested in applying should click on the job title and fill out the application form there.


The Asian American Writers’ Workshop is looking to hire a highly ambitious entrepreneur who wants to build editorial and new media experience with the literary nonprofit that partied with Das Racist and Tao Lin, curated the Asian American ComiCon, and enlisted Salman Rushdie, Naomi Klein and 300 other writers to boycott Arizona and its crackdown on immigrants.

OUR VISION. We are inventing the online Asian American literary culture of tomorrow. We’re launching an online magazine that’s as accessible as Slate, as cool as Bidoun, more thrilling than the average literary journal or progressive magazine. We’ll feature some of the finest writers in America in a unique, provocative format designed to lure in people who don’t think political or ethnic literature is meant for them. We’ve already assembled a dream team of advisors, put together an editorial guide, and mocked up a new design. We have a vision we want you to implement, but you’ll need to bring some vision of your own too.

We’re interested in the thrilling undiscovered Asian American intellectual culture beyond Tiger Moms and Amy Tan. Think: avant-garde poets; Amar Chitra Katha; transnational adoption; multiracial identity; institutional roadblocks at publishing houses; nativist hysteria; global metropolises; gentrification in Chinatown; Korean dramas; Walt Whitman’s secretary; post-9/11 detention; Hasan Elahi sending self-portraits to the FBI; the anniversary of the LA riots; Ai Wei Wei; the Philip K. Dick story where the Japanese conquer America. We’re not interested in: too exclusive an emphasis on pop culture; diatribes about cliche topics; a focus on Asian heritage rather than contemporary Asian American culture.

The main focus will be on managing the Workshop Magazine, which will include soliciting, writing, or editing at least two pieces a week (these may include reported features, blog posts, poems, fiction, user submissions, book and film reviews, writing contests). You’ll also work with our staff to build content out from 1) the Workshop’s general programs and fundraising campaigns; 2) Open City: Blogging Urban Change: our anti-gentrification blogging initiative that sends writer-bloggers to gentrifying NYC neighborhoods to tell the story of speechless immigrants and connect readers with community groups and zoning debates; 3) Wordstrike: our online cultural campaign that seeks to humanize Arizona immigrants via user-submitted videos and op-eds against a xenophobic national discourse.

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Dean Young on MFAs, Recklessness etc

by on May.12, 2011

I’ve been meaning to write something about Dean Young’s book of poetics, The Art of Recklessness, which I borrowed from a student and have rudely forgotten to give back to him.

I like a lot of what Young’s got to say in this book; a lot of it is inspirations exhortations. I know a lot of people who have studied with young, and I can see why so many of them found Young such an inspiring teacher.

Though I question some of the rhetoric. For example, he uses “experimental poets” a lot as a strawman, defining it in very narrow ways without actually naming particulars; that’s a practice I think should be avoided. I want to see examples of this poetry, not just be told to stay away from it. I would like to know who exactly he’s talking about.

Likewise there is the common (see my Billy Collins post) distrust of poststructuralist theory, which I think is too reductive. Though here he is a bit more specific: the theory makes everything seem “construct”-ish to Young, and Young is very invested in authenticity.
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"Swedes don't exist…": Naturalization, Kitsch and The Past

by on May.10, 2011

While I was waiting to be “naturalized” as a U.S. citizen on Friday I was reading Homi Bhabha’s Location of Culture, so that’s definitely influencing this post. But mostly it seems now would be an opportune time to get back to my common claim that “the immigrant is kitsch,” now that I’m “naturalized” (but obviously by definition not “natural”).


As I was sitting there in the huge court house (With a motto from To Kill a Mockingbird, or maybe One Flew Over the Cucko’s Nest, on the bronze plaques, with a high school group of flag bearers with fake muskets), I was thinking about this very issue of the immigrant as kitsch: How the immigrant is so frequently made into an exotic trinket, or a counterfeit (“Made in Taiwan”) etc. As with atrocity kitsch, it’s a way of dealing with a troubling presence, something like an uncanny figure (un-home-like).
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Question of the Day: What is Taste? (Or, does it matter where the fashion victim bought her plastic?)

by on May.05, 2011

Question of the day: What is taste? Please answer in the comments field!

I’ve been writing a lot about “taste” it seems; how I’m against it and all that. In the comment to my last post about the Poetry Foundation, Steve Burt writes that he believes in “personal taste.” That concept is very popular in poetry discussions, the idea that we all have our “personal tastes.” And I am sure I have said similar things on this blog.

However, I feel dissatisfied with this concept – both “taste” and “personal”. It seems to me too invested in an idea of personal agency and original essence and interiority – as if we all have this individual taste with which we then approach the shopping mall of poetry (where everything is free).
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