"A cursory tracing of infection patterns": Jeremy Behreandt on Aase Berg's Dark Matter and "American kitschy-grotesque aesthetic"

by on Mar.13, 2013

Jeremy Behreandt has an excellent review of Dark Matter by Aase Berg up on Heavy Feather Review.In it he makes some really interesting comments about the matter-mind conflict in the poem and how this might relate to the deformative language:

In Berg’s language, which deploys neologism and bizarre grammar, one is invited to practice new logics or analogies. If the ghost is born of the dark material machine, does it inherit the machine’s characteristics in its genes? If yes, and the dark matter is opaque and inscrutable, then the consciousness can learn nothing of itself by studying its parent empirically. If no, then the consciousness is an orphan, a “deformity, an aberration…a slit in the structure.” It is lost in the hostile world and to itself. Rather than accepting Descartes’ comfortable Cogito ergo sum, Berg explodes the disjunct between mind and body into grotesque, unforeseen conclusions. An architectural or geological formation may have a face or faces, a name or names, corruptible bodily organs or erupting limbs as much as a human may not. Flesh is machine, mineral is flesh, figure is indistinguishable from ground. This yields powerful imagery in Dark Matter, such as “Here runs a visible underground border, a fistulation toward Mare Imbrium. I thrust the muscle latch toward the machines that throb there in the wound” from “In Dovre Slate Mill.” Or “Here the tendons weave a cathedral of signs from Pangea’s hidden core. Here the cranium glows in the memory of the machine’s facial features” from “Cryptogram.”

It has always struck me about this book how “figure is indistinguishable from ground” and this review brings this issue into an interesting conversation about matter.

Behreandt also raises the question of how I/Black Ocean have framed this translation:

Of course, one must remain mindful that the American audience receives Dark Matter through the interpretive framing of Johannes Görannson. If Berg writes, “Come Leatherface, my love, glide into the face of the secret’s bestial longing” and never again makes mention of Leatherface, both Gorannson’s introduction and the copy on the back cover, while acknowledging numerous sources, emphasize Berg’s allusion to and alteration of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It makes this reviewer wonder if the American kitschy-grotesque aesthetic, as it codifies its discourse and forms its canon, is promoting an edgy, hip Dark Matter that is in constellation with Bataille while keeping mum on the Dark Matter in constellation with Novalis (whose verse serves as an epigraph for the book), the Dark Matter which frequently addresses traditional philosophic questions on idealism vs. materialism, artificial vs. natural, reason vs. will, being vs. becoming, unity vs. strife.

I think that’s a fair question. (continue reading…)

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Bad at Sports: More thoughts about Asco, Kitsch and the Foreigner

by on Mar.06, 2013

I’ve written another post about Asco over at Bad at Sports.


“One more thing about kitsch: any art can become kitsch. It moves around. That’s why people are scared of it (of having their art turn into the next kitsch, making it worthless). But that’s why it makes such a promising zone of experimentation: it’s mobile. Once you enter into kitsch zone high becomes low, foreigner becomes “us”, not by becoming a naturalized but by assuming a place while wearing a mask. That’s why I’m interested in kitsch as a zone of exploration in my own work, and why Asco has been a great inspiration for me.”


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Visions of Tastelessness: Rauan Klassnik and Aase Berg

by on Feb.24, 2013

Rauan Klassnik wrote up a good discussion about Aase Berg’s Dark Matter (I translated it, Black Ocean just published it) on Facebook. Here’s an excerpt:

“Kitsch” is a word that Göransson and Berg seem to like. Berg describes her own books, Dark Matter and With Deer, as being “almost sickeningly Kitschy.” And, yeah, I agree. Almost. Almost. And sometimes completely.

In this instance I am thinking of Kitsch because of the wonderful early Star Trek tropical fantasy worlds suggested by lines like

“Orchards of flower meal, peonies of meat.”

And this quickly, though, erupts into a kitschy and beautiful disaster flick:

“red heat above the cities where the war is blossoming. . .the velvet butterflies explode…”

And while we’re on the subject of Sci-Fi Kitsch I’ll just mention that this book, like Donald Dunbar’s Eyelid, sometimes reminds me of the animated Aeon Flux:

“He bent into the kiss and sucked up the fat liquid with his sticky feeler.”


The “Exotic Orient”: in the soft heart of the Star Trek Kitsch worlds we find perhaps or perhaps not surprisingly “A young Chinese girl who stares at us from her obscured position” and then a bit later “the Gulf Stream turns in the tropics toward Asia’s happy sinking cities” and, then, again “lanterns rose and fell from the city’s tallest Ferris Wheel.”

The Actuary interviews Rauan Klassnik here.


Yeah, “decadent” is a word i hear a lot about my work, especially my new book. (I hear it a lot out of my own mouth also). And I feel pretty good about this word. I mean, i think it’s valid. Of course, like most words it can cut both ways. It’s decadent so it’s bullshit. Or, cool, it’s decadent. (lights, fireworks, chocolates and eternal orgasms). One of the dangers (limitations?) of decadent, really decadent work, is that it can spiral, rot. And/or flatten out. Again this cuts both ways. How much spiral’s too much? How much rot’s too much? I dunno. For the most part i think i stayed on the safe or safe-ish while writing and making this book. But then again i probably crossed over, and over, certain lines of good/bad taste and good/bad literary sense. But, really, if you want to tip over some cows you’re probably going to get some shit on your feet. And while you’re at it why not roll around in it some. Why not climb inside that cow?…

Paul Cunningham interview RK here.

(continue reading…)

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

by on Feb.22, 2013

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

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

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


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Is Poetry a Popular Culture?

by on Feb.20, 2013

I think it’s fair to say that in our culture – the wider culture of newspapers and films but also academic discussions etc – poetry has come to exemplify the opposite of a Popular Culture. The movies are for everyone, poetry is for the select few. The movies feel good about this because it makes them – despite the very hierarchical arrangement and huge amounts needed to make them as opposed to the fairly cheap cost of making say an Internet zine of poetry – feel democratic; it seems to make a lot of poetry people feel good because it makes them feel exclusive, like they have Taste. Or it makes the poets feel moralistic (whether Quietist or Experimental this seems true); they are not part of the spectacularity of the Culture Industry, the immorality of kitsch etc.

Similarly, some scholars like to study “popular culture” in opposition to an elitist “high culture.” It’s part of a democratic gesture.

Bridging these worlds seem to cause a strange amount of consternation. It’s totally accepted to be a scholar of mass culture; and it’s accepted to be a scholar of high culture. But very seldom do they seem to be read together.

A couple of days ago, Steve Fredman led an interesting discussion of Laurie Anderson’s “Strange Angels” as part of our poetics study group here at Notre Dame (drawing connections to Win Wenders, Benjamin, Fassbinder etc). A couple the professors objected to what they saw as the banality and kitsch of Anderson’s lyrics and her music. After some discussion it came down to: Was she aware that she was using banal language? Was it a parody? Could it be seen as a critique? IF so, she was justified. If so, she did not challenge their notion of Taste (that’s my reading of the situation, not their’s obviously.).I argued, that No, her work did not have that kind of critical distance.

But I kept wondering what threatened them so much about this work, what made them so defensive. Was it not the problematic “hipster” quality of Anderson: she was following a different “taste” than theirs – one that included pop music, dancing, fashion etc.
(continue reading…)

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Art's Materialism: A Letter to the Mulleavey Sisters (Rodarte)

by on Feb.12, 2013

Dear Kate and Laura Mulleavy,

When you speak, I can’t tell whether you are talking about yourself or your clothes. Are you the weird girls or are your clothes about weird girls from horror movies. Do the shoes bind up the collection, or do they bind up the body of the models? Is the hair-covered face your own hair-covered face, or is it the children of Japanese horror. Are you interested in their eyes or the hair? This show should take place in a velvet underground, or did you sell all the records to buy fabric?

It’s not that I want to find the answer to these questions. I’m inspired by the way your statements seem to function like and-also: tying together contradictions. Mohair-surrealism. Or rather introducing time into an image: first she has eyes then they are covered with hair. You go into the kitchen to get some sugar. There’s sugar on my lips and in my eyes.

Art animates the body, so it’s no wonder, the animated corpse is the most poetical topic in the world. It’s no wonder the clothes are the “pure” red of blood, as if the body was already in the same realm as art, as if it consisted of an “organic matter” like hair. Or slashed fabric. Or things that looked like they could be debris. But might be mohair or hair-hair. Or hare-hair.

It’s like Teemu’s observation about Cark Ashton Smith’s “literal-minded,” “nearsighted” “misreadings” of 19th Century French poetry: the literalizing translation. Thinking Baudelaire’s fabric. You say it’s the “idea of the color red…. the idea of blood-soaked cloth… a real pure color red.” The scandal of art is the scandal of an idea that is a color. The infamous “Piss Christ” (by Andres Serrano) is suspended in that sugary yellowish color. Color as an idea. Sugar as method.

In Wojnarowicz’s “Fire in my Belly,” the ants crawl over Christ’s body, searing its orifices for sugar to bring back to the nest, to make honey in the dry Mexican earth. The sugar asks us to consume Jesus’s body in an extreme form of worship: art’s transubstantiation, art’s “misreading.” It asks us to look at his beautiful body. Look at him. He is made of art. I am made in a video.

I am the passenger.
I ride and I ride through the streets of Los Angeles.
I look out the window and what do I see?
A city saturated with sugar.
A Jesus with pearls on his body.
A Juarez where women wait for the busy at night
with lipstick smeared on their lips and tar
streaking their cheeks.
(continue reading…)

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Gangrene and Glitter: More on ASCO and "The Foreigner is Kitsch"

by on Feb.08, 2013

I’ve started to blog at the arts blog Bad at Sports. My first post there features some further thoughts on “ethnic art” and the Chicano arts collective ASCO.


A while back I got in a heated discussion with a Latino poet who claimed the Latina writer Sandy Florian was not a Latina writer because she did not “write about the Latina experience.” Her writing was too “experimental” – ie it called attention to itself as artifice, rather than (as his own poetry) seeking to document the stuff of the Latin “experience” (whether food, customs, family traditions). In other words, art gets in the way to this “documenting.” Authenticity becomes a conservative aesthetic. Ethnicity becomes an aesthetic. Paradoxically, all things aesthetic are of course artifice.
In this insistence on art that “documents” the “real thing,” this conservative aesthetic reminds me quite a bit of the discussions in “Performance Art” where it seems to me (I admit it, I’m not an expert in this field) important that the real art is the performance, not the “documentation.” Sometimes I’ve come across these spats in performance art discussions where people get accused of turning the “documentation” into the artwork.

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The Violence of Style: Larry Levis, Sylvia Plath, Mark Levine etc

by on Feb.05, 2013

I want to continue thinking about the kind of relationship between masculinity, violence and art that I broached in my last post, about the West Memphis 3 and “violent femmes”. This is of course something I’ve written about frequently in my own poetry (luckily I write about things I don’t understand, so I can continue). I’m interested in how the identification of violence and masculinity in poetry; and also how this relates to the foreign, the ethnic. But mostly what I’m going to talk about here is how violence is said to be “masculine” in fact comes off as “feminine” in many ways inside art, and how this relates to “style”, and in fact “too much” style, or “inflation” as I’ve called it elsewhere.

In older posts I documented how the “early” Larry Levis and cohorts were dismissed for their “glut” of poetry that was surrealist – violent, slapstick bodies, foreign/translation-influenced, sensationalistic – and how they “moved on” to write poetry that was about grief-as-interiority, “narrative” memories, but strangely almost paralyzed in their quietism. You can get a good sense of this violent early poems by the title of his first book, “Wrecking Crew.”

I get a gun and go
shoot an airplane full of holes,
and stare at the thing on the runway
until its covered with rust.
This takes years.
I turn forty somewhere, waiting
for the jet underneath me to
clear its throat of burned

I think it’s also pretty important that this “early” poetry was Plath-influenced in exactly these regards. The other day on Facebook, Brian Henry posted the following quote from Helen Vendler’s famous essay on Sylvia Plath:

Poems like ‘Daddy’ and ‘Lady Lazarus’ are in one sense demonically intelligent, (continue reading…)

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"Paradise Lost": Violent Femmes, Hysterical Masculinity and the Threat of Art (pt 1)

by on Jan.31, 2013

The other day, Mary Austin Speaker facebook-ed a link to a powerful essay by Rebecca Solnit (is this the same person who wrote that excellent book on Muybridge the other year?) about masculinity and violence. In it she she lists a lot of instances of male-female violence (rapes, murders, torn eyelashes). I am interested in the way “masculinity” is and is not represented or even equated with violence, whether violence makes masculinity appear, or if masculinity is a form of violence, or if violence is somehow a natural effect of masculinity, or the idea that men are somehow violent.

I am also interested in how these concerns play out in poetry, that most femmy of arenas, a place populated by some pretty unmacho men (not counting Charles Olson). I’m interested in particular in how it pertains some recent topics of discussion on this blog: the often sensationalistically violent Sylvia Plath, but more interestingly perhaps, our discussion of Larry Levis and his “maturing” away from violent slapstick bodies (which often deal with rape and sexual violence) into a poetics of near-paralysis, recollection, mourning and interiority. Does this “mature” Levis become more or less masculine because it’s less violent? Is the Plath- and translation-influenced “hysterical masculinity” of the early Levis too masculine or actually not masculine at all?
(continue reading…)

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"That is not your mother but her body": The Corpse Aesthetics of Plath, Hughes and Murder Mysteries

by on Jan.22, 2013

PlathForever-2012-single-duo-v1I was reading Ted Hughes’ poem “The Dogs Are Eating Your Mother” this morning and I started thinking about the Corpse as an icon of art, art’s violence, and the unsettling itneriority-less-ness of the image. This is of course made really obvious in Plath’s own work. “Arrival of the Bee Box” with its horror and fascination with the locked up foreign (African, Roman) mob which she plans to let out to let it devour her is a kind of model for art’s affect (it swarms, it bites, it kills)[1]. “Fever 103” is in many ways about that state of being enswarmed – she becomes artificial (acetylene virgin, a flickering Japanese lantern, ie kitsch). And most famously the kitsch-crowded (atrocity kitsch, freakshow kitsch, shell kitsch) “Lady Lazarus” where she is displayed for the “peanut crunching crowd,” a swarming entity whose “crunching” for me always felt like a “bone-crunching” (ie they’re eating the speaker).

This crunching and devouring of the corpse leads me to think about Ted Hughes’ poem about Plath, “The Dogs are Eating Your Mother”:

The Dogs Are Eating Your Mother
by Ted Hughes

That is not your mother but her body.
She leaped from our window
And fell there. Those are not dogs
That seem to be dogs
Pulling at her. Remember the lean hound
Running up the lane holding high
The dangling raw windpipe and lungs
Of a fox? Now see who
Will drop on all fours at the end of the street
And come romping towards your mother,
Pulling her remains, with their lips
Lifted like a dog’s lips
Into new positions. Protect her (continue reading…)

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"It's All Dada" or "Dada, by way of David Bowie and Frank Zappa, drag and Pachuco culture": Immigrant Aesthetics, Authenticity Kitsch and ASCO

by on Jan.17, 2013

A while back I wrote about homesickness and immigration. I thought I would add a few more words about it. On one had the immigrant is a really heroic figure in both American culture. America loves the story of the strong immigrant who forges ahead and makes a new life for himself, forgetting about his old world life. He maintains his wholeness (and I’m using the male pronoun because this figure is very much identified as masculine).

The flipside of this coin is the bad immigrant, the immigrant who suffers from homesickness, who cannot forget about his home and family. This is the weak, sentimental immigrant, the feminine immigrant who becomes torn, loses his wholeness. As Susan Matt shows in her book Homesickness, such feelings were increasingly pathologized in the 19th century as part of American nation-building. We needed our citizens to be whole, to belong fully to America.

I am thinking about how this dilemma and how it pertains to ethnic writing. Immigrant cultures tend, strangely, to produce conservative art. In part “conservative” as in trying to “conserve” their heritage. If you go to Swedish-American cultural events you’re more likely to encounter Maypoles and Dala horse (ethnic trinketry in other words) than avant-garde poetry (even though, as I hope I’ve shown over the past ten years, there’s a lot of amazing poetry and art being conducted by Swedish artists and writers). In other words, ethnic kitsch.

But is this conservatism an act of sentimentality? And is it an attempt to remain whole or an inability to sever ties with the past? Or is it an easy way of making the past past? To make relics out of one’s home.

“The urge to collect objects, for individuals as well as societies, is a sign of impending death. One finds this need acutely manifested during preparalytic periods. There is also the mania for collecting – in neurology, “collectionism.” – Paul Morand, 1929

“Kitsch is dead from the moment it is born” – Celeste Olalquiaga


In poetry it seems that a lot of immigrant and ethnic poetry seems very much focused on the kind of aesthetic of “personal narrative” that was invented in the 1970s – as we talked about in the Larry Levis discussions a while back – to “mature” the immature, translation-based aesthetics of the late 60s and early 70s.

And on the other hand, I know of so many “experimental” writers who dismiss “identity art” as the worst, most regressive kind of art.

This may all seem pretty odd because modernism and the avant-garde is so largely predicated on the immigrant experience. You have Shklovsky’s famous idea of art as an “estrangement” (“ostranenie”) device that in essence suggests that art makes us feel like strangers in the world, makes the world fresh to us by making us into foreigners. This kind of thinking goes back to the same German Romantics on whose work Walter Benjamin famously drew in making his evocative claims about translation. And you have someone like Brecht and his “defamiliarization” devices meant to push us out of the ideologically saturated space of our homeland to view it at a critical distance.
(continue reading…)

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Everything was Sublime: The Black Nature of Hilma af Klint (and Marie Curie and Kim Hyesoon)

by on Jan.03, 2013

“The fern craze opened as men’s clothes turned black.”— The Victorian Fern Craze: A History of Pteridomania, by Daniel Allen Elliston


We may have missed the future in which Hilma af Klint’s work could have been received.  Perhaps we encounter it now in its permanent quiescence, a ruin of the former future. Her work is occult, runic, enclosed and split open, some works 11 feet tall, others closed in 150 secret notebooks, secret leaves conjuring to each, awaiting a dead/future reader. Her day job was painting flowers, producing the autokitsch of Swedish naturalism; her black work was drawing occult diagrams, geometric forms and colors which seek to understand the life force or ‘astral guidelines’ in these very flowers, songbirds, lichen. Her work thus unites the strictures of Malevich with the necrotic knowledge that life is an uncanny thing which must make its way fields of black matter by scavenging for various forms; her spirit teachers told her, “Your mission is to open their eyes to a life that lasts for eternity.”


She wrote in her notebooks in 1917,

“Everything is contained within the black cube: The greenery of the earth is the bottom of the cube, the blue air is its roof, and the water-filled part is situated at that section of the cube that I rest my back against.” Her own body is a measuring stick for the totality; she turns her back on the black cube to draw it again and again; she knows it intimately, by heart, as if it has been transferred through the bones of her back.

It makes me think of Marie Curie, knowledge of radium learned as isotopes passed through the hands, writing out their own semiotics in fatigue, burns and and leukemia–

marie curie

and also of Kim Hyesoon’s entire ouevre, any poem, in which forms contain, die, give birth, give way to more forms, and the end of eternity can never be found. Creatures keep consuming each other, shitting, tearing, pushing through each other, and the significance of any given form or container is that it marks a boundary which can be pushed through, though one which always might reconstitute itself:

From “Sublime Kitchen” (trans. Don Mee Choi)
I caught a glimpse of her kitchen once
The rain cloud of flour mushroomed (continue reading…)

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The Visionary Kitsch of the 1980s (Michael Strunge, poetry, pop music, Ian Curtis etc)

by on Dec.30, 2012

Recently I’ve been thinking about the 1980s a lot. Well recently I’ve started to work on a kind of memoir of Sweden in the 1980s which is really more like a work of cultural history, hopefully in the line of a lot of Greil Marcus’s books.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the Danish poet Michael Strunge (1958-1986), a legendary 80s poet whose visionary poetry I read frequently and devotedly in the late 80s when I started to write poetry. He committed suicide in 1986 and that was part of his Rimbaud-like, Romantic image.

I was trying to find the book I read back then, Kristallskeppet (“The Chrystal Ship”), a selected poems in Swedish translation, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere, which is sad because it’s like my first book of poetry I ever owned (but luckily some Danes sent me some of his poems over facebook). As that title suggests, his poetry is full of sci-fi-ish visions of the city, fitting in very well with the kitsch-related stuff I’ve been posting on this blog – how kitsch not a lack, but an excess, related to Romanticism, how it’s about the poetic in an age of industrialism. It also engaged quite strikingly with the youth/pop culture of the era, including direct references to David Bowie and Ian Curtis.

Here are some quick excerpts very roughly translated (hopefully not too many huge errors, my Danish is shaky):

from “Elegy for Ian Curtis + may 1980”

Your voice was like that:

Smoky nights with unovercome childhood,
unhealed wounds behind the glass armor.
Plaster that tears so impossibly slowly
that the wound is experiences as a wound.

Your depression was clean and free for the worldangst.
You could see your own cancer growth
and did not want to cut it off,
you knew
that the cancer is the strongest
is death the closest and inhabits it.

So rather choose death’s naked honesty
than this hypocritical life,
where pain was a sign of life
but live became a sign of pain.
Skinlessness is the highest nakedness and death.

(continue reading…)

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