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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Corpses and Ruins: More on “Ruin Porn”

by on Apr.04, 2014

From Eva Brauns’ body snow in and
Finally cover over the portals. There is nobody
From the soil. It is still
The thirties. Grass on the floor, it is
Different, the apartment with
The white friends in underwear in
The burning grass.
– Lars Noren (from Final Song on the Morning of Eva Braun’s Death)

Yesterday I wrote a piece about ruin porn inspired by my visit to Detroit. It was really more about the critique/condemnation about “ruin porn,” how this critique stages a condemnation of art and art’s deformation zone, how it also stabilizes something volatile about art, and especially the image.
I see the same condemnation/stabilization in a lot of the rhetoric around kitsch. So that Saul Friedlander condemning kitsch for its connection to Nazism is a little like condemning art as “ruin porn.” Friedlander could be talking about these Detroit pictures here:

“Here is the essence of the frisson: an overload of symbols; a baroque setting; an evocation of a mysterious atmosphere, of the myth and of religiosity enveloping a vision of death announced as a revelation opening out into nothing – nothing but frightfulness and the night. Unless… Unless the revelation is that of a mysterious force leading man toward irresistible destruction.”

But if it’s “porn”, how come there are no sexual bodies in it like there are in your standard Free Porn Videos?

Or if these pictures have bodies in them, they must certainly be corpses, right? Corpse porn? That sounds like a genre you’d see on a porn site.


And Blanchot pointed out a long time ago the intimate connection between images and corpses:

“The cadaver is its own image. It no longer entertains any relation with this world, where it still appears, except that of an image, an obscure possibility, a shadow ever present behind the living form which now, far from separating itself from this form, transforms it entirely into shadow. The corpse is a reflection becoming master of the life it reflects-absorbing it, identifying substantively with it by moving it from its use value and from its truth value to something incredible-something neutral which there is no getting used to. And if the cadaver is so similar, it is because it is, at a certain moment, similarity par excellence: altogether similarity, and also nothing more. It is the likeness, like to an absolute degree, overwhelming and marvellous. But what is it like? Nothing.”


Maybe we need a “parapornographic” reading of Detroit?


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Detroit is Baroque: Ruins, Pornography, Kitsch, Pedagogy

by on Apr.03, 2014

This past weekend I went to Detroit to give a reading at the Salt and Cedar press, and it got me to thinking about “ruin porn” again, a pet topic of mine. As probably all of you know, “ruin porn” is the phrase used to condemn beautiful photographs of the ruins of Detroit (though I’ve also seen it on a local level, photographs of the ruins of South Bend at the local museum interestingly):


For example, I found this quote in a Huffington Post article summarizing this discussion: “Some have expressed frustration at the way decline is glamorized or exploited — it’s called ruin porn for a reason — rather than seen as part of the city’s larger ills.”

Glamor is a kind of exploitation because it is so purely aesthetic; it does not pay enough attention to context. And this comes up over and over in these discussions: these photos aestheticize or fetishize or glamorize the ruins. The key point is of course: they make art out of ruins.
(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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The The Kristen Stewart Debates: Poetry, Taste and Mass Culture!

by on Feb.20, 2014

I’ve meant to write down a few thoughts about Kristen Stewart’s poem published in (or recited for) Marie Clarie Magazine a couple of weeks back and the ensuing controversy. I think this discussion says a lot about taste, mass culture and poetry.


* I don’t know Kristen Stewart’s acting career very well but I saw her in a movie in which she was wonderfully paralyzed in the face. I also know that she was in the vampire movies, Twilight (which later turned into that S&M novel fan fiction).

* It’s interesting to see what kinds of people said what about KS’s poem. Marie Claire and the celebrity, mass culture magazine all seemed to repeat the line that KS herself used to introduce the poem: she said it was “embarrassing.” A celebrity sites seemed to merely repeat that word “embarrassing”. We can take that as a sign of their laziness, sure, but I think it says something else: Poetry – even though it’s supposedly “high culture” is – seen from the point of view of “mass culture” – embarrassing. Always embarrassing.
(continue reading…)

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The Violence and Invisibility of Translations

by on Jan.25, 2014

I just wrote this on my facebook update:

Seems like a lot of issues of translation has come up recently: Don Mee Choi’s not that she – the translator – wasn’t mentioned in the review of Kim Hyesoon’s All the Garbage; the Lucas Klein post I linked to below; C. Dale Young discussion about the claim that American writers are insular and don’t read work in translation (judging from the commentary to that link, they’re not only not reading works in translation but also totally unwilling to have a discussion about them not reading things in translation); and Coldfront Magazine’s “top 40 poetry books of 2014” which didn’t include a *single* work in translation (there’s no ethical responsibility to read works in translation, but lets think about what it means that you think all 40 best books of 2013 were by Americans!). I guess I’ll have to write something about this… Just when I thought Lawrence Venuti was outdated…

Where to go from there? I’ve been writing about translation so long now that I don’t even know what to say anymore… To begin with, I don’t think all Americans want to ignore things in translation. America has a really rich history of engaging with works in translation (Pound etc). As I noted in this post I wrote for the Poetry Foundation, there is quite a bit of interest in translation, but it’s mostly in the small-press universe. Kim Hyesoon’s All the Garbage of the World Unite! (in Don Mee’s translation!) has received an incredibly amount of positive feedback. Overall, the two Kim Hyesoon books have probably received some 20 substantial write-ups and her work is not being translated into a whole bunch of languages. So not all people hate works in translation…

So who does hate translation? (continue reading…)

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Pageant Reviewed at Make Magazine

by on Jan.24, 2014

Erin Becker has written an insightful (at least to me, the author, and that’s pretty good!) review of my book Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate in Make Magazine.


Like a mad scientist throwing together unexpected chemicals, Göransson delights in coupling divergent concepts, seeing which combinations smoke, sizzle, or explode. Just a few examples: “luxuriant pupils,” a “soundproof pose,” a “molested parade,” a “garbled hand,” “authenticity kitsch.” Entrance is an experiment in syntax; synesthesia is the rule rather than the exception. Its characters speak in simple thoughts and grammar, like children: “I had trouble eating the food”; “Foreign bodies must be studied”; “I cannot do the Twist”; “Passengers cannot be trusted”; “I am not here”; “We want to teach him how to speak.” The relentless subject-verb-subject-verb progressions make the book a simultaneously difficult and easy read. Beneath the words there is an undulating rhythm, at first comforting, then unnerving, then both simultaneously. Layered over familiar syntax, startling images are made more startling still.

It’s not only these pattern-shattering juxtapositions and relentless syntax that create this effect of strangeness. It’s also the way the trite phrasing, basic grammar, and clichés come down with a clank against the backdrop of linguistic madness. As Göransson’s characters soliloquize on their diseases and infestations, they forefront the diseased and infested nature of the clichés and banality that infects all communication. Tried-and-maybe-not-so-true combinations like “barely legal,” “murderous instinct,” and “kiss and tell” suddenly ring false against other, less customary language. The contrast between the unfamiliar and the familiar exposes the familiar in the unfamiliar and vice versa. Göransson asks: Where do we get our lines, the words that go into our ears and come out of our mouths? And to what degree do they get us?

– See more at:

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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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Tonight! In Stockholm! Aase Berg, Johannes Göransson and Carl-Michael Edenborg!

by on Oct.01, 2013

Yes, we’re having a discussion/reading tonight at Rönnels in Stockholm. The activities will start at 6:30 pm. We’ll talk about porn, kitsch, the aesthetics of embarrassment, grotesequeries, and we’ll read from our books.


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MY HEART IS A BOMB! (Some thoughts about Romanticism)

by on Sep.30, 2013

I’m thinking about this today in a cloudy Stockholm attic room: The way that academic discussions of literature (and poetry in particular) often veer into morality, some kind of justification for poetry, for style, or – its opposite – a rejection of it (usually as kitsch, immoral, schlocky).
I’m also thinking about how this relates to Lars Norén. As I wrote in my last post about Norén’s corpse, there’s this violence that permeates his work, from his early lyrics to his – almost up-to-date – diaries. There’s this sense of struggle: the desire to eradicate the poetic, the kitsch, but also the sense that poetic pulls you back in, damages you right back. I suppose this has something to do with Romanticism. In his diaries, I just read him reminiscing about reading Hölderlin, Novalis, Celan.


Aside I turn to the holy, unspeakable, mysterious Night. Afar lies the world — sunk in a deep grave — waste and lonely is its place. In the chords of the bosom blows a deep sadness. I am ready to sink away in drops of dew, and mingle with the ashes. — The distances of memory, the wishes of youth, the dreams of childhood, the brief joys and vain hopes of a whole long life, arise in gray garments, like an evening vapor after the sunset. In other regions the light has pitched its joyous tents. What if it should never return to its children, who wait for it with the faith of innocence?

[It’s worth noting that Aase Berg’s Dark Matter begins with a Novalis quote.]

Noren’s constantly caught in a battle with his art, and his art is caught in a battle with Auschwitz (“Auschwitz is the capitol of the 20th century,” he notes.), with American imperialism, with the Israeli attacks on Palestine. Is he aestheticizing politics? Is he playing “ruin porn,” “empire porn”? Is he immoral? Is he a vampire? Is Romanticism Norén’s downfall?

Romanticism still seems to play such a large part in how we view poetry: there’s something inherently Romantic about poetry, something we have to discipline because it is also of questionable morality. There was that movie the other year about Keats: how his pale body was covered in butterflies drawn by the smell of rotten fruit (butterflies which I then lured to my room for The Sugar Book).

But obviously also everything from “Berlin”:

I’m thinking back to when I was in college, when I was in a supposedly “quietist” grad workshop: the teacher brought in Language poetry and essays about language poetry and everybody thought that was all good. They were perfectly acceptable. But in discussions of poetry the “Romantic” was always what had to be rejected. This also went by the phrase “too much.” There are too many metaphors in this poem, this speaker is megalomaniacal, seems fake etc.
At the same time I read a lot of postmodern criticism: it was all about the rejection of the “Romantic I.” Supposedly this was what the Quietists practiced: but they too were rejecting the “Romantic.” I smelled a rat. But I couldn’t tell where. I still can’t.

Just that it’s stinking worse than ever.

(Or has the rat already been found? Did my generation of poets devour it without knowing it? Am I puking up something I’ve already eaten a million times? When I come across so many of the 20-something poets they seem unencumbered by all of this, free to write awesome poetry.)

I think of Saul Friedlander’s description of kitsch as “debased Romanticism,” and his whole link of Romanticism, Nazism, stunted-ness and death. It all starts to sound vaguely Frankenstein-ey.

I don’t know all that much about Romanticism even though it was largely the stuff that got me into poetry as a teenager. There’s something teenagery about Romanticism. “I love Shelley” written in a bathroom stall (oh, that Shelley). Or, this morning on the official sign that read “This Area Is Under Surveillance” somebody had slapped a sticker that said “MY HEART IS A BOMB!”

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“It’s like rooting around in a grave”: Necrophilia and Modernism in Lars Norén

by on Sep.28, 2013

[Here is another excerpt from the memoir/criticism book I’ve been working on lately. Like the other things I’ve posted on the blog, it has to do with Lars Norén’s work, especially his massive diaries that have been published in two volumes over the past few years. In many ways I feel very close to Norén’s work – both his writing and his diaries – and I’m trying to work through that here. So if it seems at times as if I’m writing about myself or my own work (as Lara noted on Facebook), maybe that’s true.]

On the train I read Lars Norén’s diaries. The more I actually read these diaries, the more interesting Greider’s claim that Norén (or his work) is a kind of corpse gets; and I sense my own thinking about not just Norén’s writing but my own writing start to shift. To begin with, around December 2001, at the same time as he’s going through a divorce and starting a new relationship, Norén goes through incredible physical ailments. He starts having diarrhea and vomiting constantly. He can’t keep anything down, as he repeatedly notes. It seems that everything just runs through him; his physical body cannot maintain its integrity, its completeness. So when Greider imagines Norén bleeding on a dissection table, he is in some sense describing this leaky, grotesque body that Norén himself describes.
This leakiness impedes a lot of his social interactions. For example, he has to hurry from dinners (with his family, colleagues); he wakes up vomiting in the middle the night. And importantly, it prevents him from fucking his new girlfriend: He says he’s too sick to “tränga in” himself in her. It’s a peculiar word for sex, “tränga” meaning to penetrate but also to push or force, and also to crowd (a “trängsel” means a crowd). The sick body prevents sociality and sexuality. It destabilizes his body and life, but it also stabilizes it as he is forced to stay indoors, kept from going out to shop, and kept inside to read and write, and he seems to get creatively going, working on four plays at the same time. The writing seems to take the place of the fucking.

And then things go from bad to worse. He has to have a jaw surgery – a part of the jaw is apparently cut off – that involves shutting his mouth with some kind of plastic prosthesis, that not only forces him to go on an all-fluid diet but which makes all the soups he’s forced to drink (he tries all kinds of fancy flavors, such as lobster bisque etc) taste like plastic. This seems the ultimate insult to a sensualist who spend much of his diary discussing the food he eats, often fancy meals (lobsters, sushi etc), someone for whom food – as much as art and clothes – takes up a large part of the diary.

Perhaps even worse, his face swells us horrifically, so that he can’t recognize himself in the mirror. He compares himself to “Francis Bacon,” a comparison that doesn’t just invoke what his face looks like, but also conveys the horror of not recognizing one’s own visage. I had an experience like that when I was about 10 or 11. I had a sinus infection that somehow got out of hand, and the sinuses around one eye swelled up so that I couldn’t even look out of that eye. That horror came back to me when I read about Norén’s experience of losing his own face in his own diary.

(It’s strange for me to write that because I’m sitting in this little hotel room in Göteborg and right in front of my little desk is a mirror so that whenever I pause I look up at my own face: my balding head, the wrinkles in my skin, the graying beard, the weird little random straws that stick out of my eye brows.)
When Norén compares his face to Bacon’s painting, it’s worthwhile thinking about the vehicle as well as the tenor of that metaphor (that’s generally true) – the sick body is like a work of art. And it seems sickness, love and art are all things that destroy Norén. At one very vulnerable moment he says: “I can’t defend myself. I don’t have any tools for defending myself.” [Jag kan inte värja mig. jag har inga redskap för att värja mig.”]. There is a naked vulnerability with which he approaches his life that makes him incapable maintaining control.
(continue reading…)

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The Sugar Book: Göran Greider on the Pornographic Corpse of Lars Norén

by on Sep.23, 2013

I thought I would talk a little more about Lars Norén, following up on my discussions of his work and Saul Friedlander’s observations about kitsch, or “debased romanticism.”


I am intrigued by the way the reviewers who dislike Norén’s diary (and there seems to be many) tend to resort to very gothic imagery: Norén is a vampire (“The Vampire Diaries” one headline announced), or a baby sucking milk from society, a parasite, even – several times – a corpse. I am particularly interested in this case because I love Norén’s early – maximalist, grotesque, beautiful, kitschy – poetry (“visionary kitsch”), and I am fascinated by the way the diary’s reception seems to re-stage those early works, as well as the way it touches on a lot of issues I’m interested in pertaining to kitsch, nazism and, what Saul Friedlander calls, “the new discourse” about nazism and kitsch.

In other words, I’m interested in the way a lot of the condemnation both tries to condemn Norén’s by invoking such common tropes against such art – kitsch, gothic, grotesque, politically fascist – and at the same time plays into this aesthetic, as if contaminated by Norén’s sensibility.

The leftist poet Göran Greider wrote one of the most interesting reviews – a “poem-review” – of Norén’s diary the other day that touches on a whole bunch of my interests in this case.

Greider starts out by comparing Noren to an Internet troll, “but one published by Bonniers,” as if there’s something tasteless about the whole venture, something that should not be made public or endorsed by the taste-marker of a big press. Norén is too emotional in the work, it seems, for it to be proper art.

More importantly, Greider reads Norén himself as a politics. He calls Norén bourgeois, but implies that he’s in fact fascistic, or even a Nazi. Greider asks: “What would the world look like if Norén had absolute power? Summary executions, persecutions, impulsive destruction of cities…” Who is Greider describing at this point? He is basically calling Norén a Nazi, or more specifically Hitler.
(continue reading…)

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The Sugar Book: On Nazism, Kitsch, Saul Friedlander and Lars Norén

by on Sep.20, 2013

So I’m in Sweden reworking The Sugar Book, my next book of poetry (to be published next year). I’ve come to Malmö in fact to work on the book, to complete it by working through my fascination with certain aspects of aspects of art: its violence, its pointlessness, its manipulativeness, its necroglamour, the way it blurs the boundaries between life and death, art and life, private and public. It’s an unwieldy book: several hundred pages and growing. I can’t contain it. It’s also about being homeless, so that’s why I’ve returned to my home, to Sweden: if I can’t contain it here, I can’t contain it anywhere.


While writing this new draft, a few things have influenced me: Sweden’s obsession with Lars Norén’s diaries, Saul Friedlander’s book on Nazism and kitsch (“Reflection on Nazism”), a book of Francesca Woodman’s photograph (I found in Martin Glaz Serup’s apartment in Copenhagen), Raul Zurita’s poems and performances (cutting himself, writing in the sky, being rewritten as a fascist pilot by Bolano etc), and the use of the word “pornography” as applied to art that may or may not contain naked bodies (for example “ruin porn”) but which almost always betrays an iconophobic attitude about the intensive visuality of some art. This hot-spot of ideas is really fueling my re-drafting of The Sugar Book because that’s what it’s about. But I thought I would also do a little Malmö-blogging for the folks back home…


For those of you not from Sweden: (continue reading…)

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