Unacknowledged Legislator Strikes Back: Langston Hughes vs. Rick Santorum

by on Apr.18, 2011

Is it super-delicious or super-tragic that gay-phobic (yet man-on-dog slipperyslope fantasizing) Rick Santorum is currently fundraising for his presidential campaign under the banner of a line taken from gay, black, red Langston Hughes? Under the slogan ‘Fighting to Make America America Again’, he asks you to donate now to . There is also a picture of him canoodling with his wife so you may be sure he ain’t gay.

Hughes’s poem ‘Let America be America Again‘, is part of Hughes’s red work that is customarily excised from sanitized classroom lesson plans, vaguely referred to as propaganda and thus lesser work. I for one actually love Hughes the propagandist; I don’t think propaganda is lesser poetry. I love the passion that rivens this, the self-compulsion of the poem. Hughes wants justice more than he wants the poem. Ok by me. Or maybe it’s more like, this poem-machine kills fascists. For the record I also love Mayakovsky’s Soviet-committed verses, inviting the factory foreman to lock up his lips once the work is done. Well, what do you think, Montevidayans? Here’s some lines I’m sure Rick Santorum highlighted on his Kindle:

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

The poem continues for quite some time. I also like those italicized lines– that weird spectralization of the choral speaker, speaking not from the fields or the factory but from behind a veil of stars. Really fascinating.

On the other hand, on the current budget battles, Santorum remarked, “Why punish the most productive people? The people who have resources create jobs, not poor people.”

Ahem. As an English prof, I’d like to suggest, Mr. Santorum, that you review that poem before the exam.

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by on Apr.13, 2011

A lot of people seem to misunderstand what I mean by kitsch. So I’ll make a brief note here. To me kitsch is on the most basic level rhetoric used (usually) to dismiss things for being inauthentic – for being in essence like mass-produced objects and a whole host of associations that have come about in modernism through the discussion of kitsch – seductive, counterfeit, image, reproduction, “soft” (as in Silliman’s “soft surrealism”), feminine, gothic etc. Kitsch is the “versioning” of the original. Obviously the immigrant is kitsch.

When I talk about kitsch, I don’t mean mass-produced objects, but the rhetoric that surrounds them. So Kenny Goldsmith can build his rhetoric on dismissing “creative writing” as kitsch – it’s actually tasteless in its unoriginalness, the very thing it’s supposed to ensure (you should be able to “find your voice” or “the voice that is great within you”, and learn how to “earn your images”). In a lot of experimental poetry discussions, traditionally literary devices like similes and metaphors are now treated as kitsch of “creative writing.” Workshops meant to protect against the garish threat of kitsch (teaching generations of writers how to write with Taste), have now become kitsch-ified.
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Snuff Film Aesthetics: Chris Burden, The Ring and The Bodies Possessed byMedia

by on Mar.09, 2011

I’ve been thinking about snuff films, particularly as they pertain to the proliferative nature of media. One key figure of this thinking is obviously Artaud, whose theater of cruelty is suggests that the plague is a kind of media, turning bodies into conduits. Another key figure is performance artist Chris Burden, whose “documentation” seems like snuff films, whose art deals with the body infected by media (gun shots, electrified water, “velvet water”), whose documentation could be a crime scene (Art kills).

Some of the ideas I’m working with: wound-media (the idea of media as conceived as fluid, entering bodies through wounds, possessing the bodies, turning them into medium, this wound is often an eye-hole), the murderous quality of a media that kills “the original” through the creation of excessive copies or “versions” (“versioning”), the anti-kitsch rhetoric of “authenticity” (and how this pertains to the body, thus clashing with the wound-media dynamic, a clash which media always wins because art is never authentic, always inherently version-y, counterfeit, potentially kitsch), the automata (female robot generated as the excess of enlightenment science and then turned into the “automatic writing” and “automatism” of the surrealists) and some other stuff that I can’t think of right now but which will become clear through a series of posts that I will put up here.

Here’s an excerpt from an essay I wrote for Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s new blog of poetics (it’s not up yet there)

The Ring:

In the horror movie The Ring, people get infected by viewing a cursed video tape, a kind of reverse snuff flick that doesn’t show death but causes it. The medium kills. The anachronism of the video tape medium itself foregrounds its mediumicity, as does the static that starts out the tape. This is followed by a “ring,” a burning ring with a dark center, an image that evokes a spellbound eye-hole, but it’s the eye hole of the viewer as well as an eye holes that looks back at the viewer: it’s a hole through which medium leaks, and infected the viewer, cursing them to die in seven days.
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On Wisconsin 2: Dispatches from Poets on the Ground: Brenda Cardenas

by on Mar.06, 2011

The poet Brenda Cárdenas has sent us this bulletin from the protests in Wisconsin. It is the second of a series of reports from the ground.

Bread of the Earth: One Worker’s Perspective on the Wisconsin Struggle for Justice

After a Rally at the Carlos Cortez Mural, Milwas, WI

Viva la Cheddar Revolution

The granddaughter of Mexican immigrants and German working class people who at one time belonged to Wisconsin’s Socialist Worker’s Party, I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the 60’s and 70’s. I’ll never forget my grandpa Cardenas’ stories about the abuse he and his brother suffered as non-union tannery workers, how his brother died of an illness related to those labor conditions, and how only when my grandfather finally, in his 40’s, got a job as an assembly line worker in a union shop, did he feel like he was treated as a human being at work. His gratitude was such that years after he had retired, he would march on the picket lines with his union brothers when they were on strike. My father started his working life in a factory; my mother, in her 70’s, still works an office job because she cannot afford to retire. Aunts and uncles on both sides of the family labored as electricians, clerical staff, telephone operators, bookkeepers, truck drivers, grocery clerks, foundry workers, and barkeeps. They always worked, sometimes two jobs, in both the public and private sectors, both with union support and without, but no matter, they never believed that the right to collective bargaining was anything but a human right. Even the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (item 2A) defines “freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain” as an essential right of all workers. Scott Walker is in contempt of the United Nations.
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Wounding American Literature: Henry Parland, Ron Silliman and Robert McRuer

by on Jan.17, 2011

A while back I wrote an entry applying the now-well-documented case of the “translator’s invisibility”, especially as it pertained to Ron Silliman’s review of my translation of Finland-Swedish dadaist Henry Parland, showing how his anxiety about the translator seemed to have caused him to go to such elaborate heights in trying to deny to presence or visibility of the translator that he actually foregrounded me in my invisibility:

Another interesting (though perhaps extraneous) thought here is that Silliman’s idea of writing is completely based on the “fluency,” as I have often noted, a very nationalistic model: good writers have “good ears” (good writing is inborn) and Ron is opposed to translations by immigrants or people whose first language isn’t English (they don’t have good ears). A basically xenophobic idea of literature. I think it’s interesting because Parland’s poetry is entirely opposed to such xenophobic ideas of literature. He was an immigrant and he learned Swedish only after he’d learned Russian, German and Finnish. In order to feel OK with Parland, Sillliman argues that Parland became a “master” of the Swedish language. Even if I believed in “mastery” of language, this is patently not true, as Parland’s language is a bit stilted (Björling complains throughout the correspondences that Parland is not working on his Swedish enough, that it’s too sloppy and slangy and indeed what people have called “translatese”).

My point with the entry was to show how this anxiety about translation comes out of an anxiety to maintain “mastery” – mastery over language (hierarchical, centripedal) and literature – for example Ron’s reductive model of “Quietism vs Post-Avant,” leading in a fiercely chronological “modernist” path from Pound to Objectivism to Ron himself.

I prefer Joyelle’s “angel of anachronism” and necropastoral; poetries that move around, that open wounds, that embrace the useless and trashed, the costumes and the convulsive.
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The Invisibility of the Translator: Ron Silliman, Henry Parland and Me

by on Jan.07, 2011

I thought I would write a few brief posts giving some of my responses to the discussion that has been taking place here. I have of course a lot of ideas about translation so I will offer a few briefs posts.

To begin with, I think Lucas is right that there is not that much difference between his and Josef’s positions. They are both concerned with the persistent “invisibility” of the translator in American poetry: In American discussions of foreign work (to the extent that they happen at all!) the translator is mostly overlooked, the foreign text is treated as a domestic text. Ie none of the issues of the process of moving a text from one language to the next is overlooked. As many theorists have noted, this “domestication” of the foreign limits the foreignizing element of the translation, makes everything seem like yet another text in American literature.

It seems to me that both Josef and Lucas agree that the invisibility of the translator does not entirely depend on “the text itself.” So much of the discussion of various takes on translation is still so dependent on the text itself – is the translator invisible in it, is it literal etc. I think what Lucas is getting at when he says that the “foreignizing translator” replaces the traditional “author function” is in part a reference to this emphasis on the text.

The emphasis on the text itself, isolated from context, also strikes me as a very conservative way of approaching not just translation but art in general. To say that the poem is a wholly new text, separate from the original, does to my mind do away with something that is interesting about translation: the way it ruins the new critical wellwrought urn, the idea that there is no noise in art, that poetry cannot be paraphrased etc. In fact it can be paraphrased, re-written. The result is not a “new” wellwrought urn; rather it shows poetry and art is being something much more dynamic, in flux, moving through various portals, what I have called “translation wounds” (referring to Joyelle’s theories about art and literature).
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The Black Swan Take 2: Sinthomosexual, Immigrants, Monster Girls and some other thoughts

by on Dec.31, 2010

I keep going back to The Black Swan and mulling it over, finding shortcomings in my first post. The biggest flaw in my first reading of the movie I think is the ease by which I equated Thomas, teh choreographer, with Father, ie socialiaty and hierarchy. I read Nina’s unwillingness to comply with getting fucked, becoming natural as a way of eluding this Father’s demand for her to be fucked, to become “natural” like Lily, to become part of the social order.

But then I started thinking: The director is not the typical father! He’s the head of a ballet troupe, hardly the most masculine, typical social hierarchy! Furthermore, he exemplifies in every way my mantra “The immigrant is kitsch”: He’s a foreigner (speaks with an accent, is an expert at ballet, that highly artificial, highly European artform, as opposed to the American Movie), both lecherous and gay-ish (dandy outfits, but funny and threatening.

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Another Post About MFA Students: Insiders and Outsiders

by on Dec.23, 2010

For a week I’ve been thinking about the persistent models of insiders-vs-outsiders in American poetry. It seems to be a very crude model but all the same an incredibly persistent model.
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Yasusada, Henry Parland, Translation Wounds and Atrocity Kitsch

by on Dec.20, 2010

The following is a continued meditation on my post about hoaxes and counterfeits, and the role of the hoax in Henry Parland and in the anxieties of translation.

In a negative review of Carolyn Forché’s Against Forgetting Eliot Weinberger makes the following critique of her concept of “poetry of witness”:

“A poetry where one’s autobiography is primary, incidents of victimization are the salient features of one’s life, and writing is seen as the way to heal those psychic wounds. (This last feature is the best evidence that this has nothing to do with poetry at all. Poetry does not close wounds or answer questions; it opens them.)”

I think of the wounds a little bit differently (but not altogether differently), I think, than Weinberger, and I also think a little bit differently about Forché’s anthology. This is after all an anthology that starts out by describing in gruesome detail the murder and exhumation of the poet Radnoti, suggesting metaphorically that the dead poet’s bodily fluids almost wrote the poetry he left behind in his backpocket (in a mass grave).

Talk about opening wounds!

Talk about wound writing, wound culture.
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Chronic: Literary History, Descendants, Counterfeits

by on Dec.15, 2010

Over at Big Other they’re having a good discussion about “chronology” and literature, in part caused by this Jackie Wang post, which quoted Joyelle’s powerful treatise on the issue, Loser Occult. And it also goes back to a post AD Jameson wrote about “originality” a while back on Big Other. I’m hoping to respond to all of these things, or at least some of them.

AD claims that most writers have no idea who “their literary forebears are.” Let me try: Genet, Artaud, Plath, Aase Berg, Lars Noren, Godard, Basquiat, Cocteau, Hitchcock…. Oh no, I’m already starting to go astray. Are the movies literary? If so, are music… Bob Dylan, all that synth pop and goth rock and punk I listened to during the 80s… Is that literary forebears? What about “Blacki” (whom I discussed in an earlier post and whom I only “heard” or “lived” once)? Or, another way of putting that, what about artists who don’t show up in the art historical chronologies? Or what about foreign writers who don’t exist in the US (Noren’s plays are somewhat known in the US, but I love his early books of poetry, Revolver for example)?
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Filters, Canons

by on Nov.23, 2010

[I cut-and-pasted this a bit but I hope this makes sense.]

One often hears to complaint: There’s too much poetry being published, how will I know what to read?

Joyelle wrote about this a while back in “The Future of Poetry,” coming to the conclusion:

“The future of poetry is the present, and it has already arrived. The present tense rejects the future. It generates, but it generates excess without the ordering structures of lineage. It subsumes and consumes pasts into its present , erasing their priority. It’s self-defeating; its rejection of survival into a future may be infanticidal.. Without a concern with past or future it necessarily negates many of the values which come with Western literary tradition, including stability, well-craftedness, elegance, restraint, timelessness, humanism. It is concerned with the media through which it moves, flimsy concerns and flimsy conceits, superficiality, errata and (likely) ephemera, flexibility, instability, unevenness, but it also partakes of a non-productive productivity typified by bombast, excess and overproduction. This art often involves failure and ‘bad fits’—the ‘bad fit’ of one genre into another, the bad fit of one media into another. Its modality is violence, frequently a self-violence against the text itself, so that text is something that explodes, exhausts, breaks down, flounces around, eats and/or shits itself, is difficult to study or call a text at all.”

A lot of folks have reacted very defensively against this moment of “overproduction,” longing for that previous time when there were fewer books and influential professors picked their favorite students (students who reinforced their aesthetic mostly, who didn’t threaten the status quo) and those were most of the books that made their way around. People who long for this era tend to be defensive of any kind of criticism as well; they want poetry to be “just the thing” without any of the discussions surrounding the poetry. They want to depend on authority, if only it would re-assert itself so that we would know what to read.
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Kitsch, the Lion King, Poetry

by on Nov.18, 2010

I think more poetry should be like the “Circle of Life” scene in The Lion King. (continue reading…)

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Basquiat, "Radiant Child"

by on Nov.16, 2010

Wanted to say something about this new movie about Basquiat that I just watched, “Radiant Child”:

I think it’s definitely worth watching for several reasons. To begin with it shows Basquiat painting, which is illuminating and inspiring, and it includes some awkward interview attempts, which is also good to see, and it offers a slew of interviews with people close to the action (the gallerists, journalists and, in an unusual move, the private collectors). It even offers a brief, radically stupid statement by the New Criterion editor (gross) about Basquiat’s lack of importance.

It also makes an interesting argument: Rather than blaming (all interpretations of Basquiat seem, somewhat reductively, to be about assigning blame) the gallerists, the usual bad guys, the movie suggests the “official art world” – including academics and reviewers – were more to blame for being unable/unwilling to understand/support Basquiat’s art. This is the art world of minimalism, or as one gallerist describes it: “white walls, white people, drinking white wine.” (I should note that as much as I like to hate on minimalism, this does seem to avoid conflict as well.)

For my purposes it is of course interesting how the movie suggests that the attacks on Basquiat tended to be by way of “kitsch” – that he viscerality of his art precluded any sophistication. (continue reading…)

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