“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 beauty of the act": Pop Corpse and Haute Surveillance

by on Aug.05, 2013


All profoundly original art looks ugly at first     — Clement Greenberg

Two books I’ve been reading and rereading this summer have been Johannes Göransson’s Haute Surveillance and Lara Glenum’s Pop Corpse, and in many ways the two books go together. They share certain sympathies, certain styles. If they were movies, they would make a great double-feature. In Memphis, there’s a porn theater, a decaying relic from the 70s, called Paris Theater. It brought in a diverse clientele because of its location between an “artsy” neighborhood and a “bad” neighborhood: crack addicts, tattoo artists, philosophy and English and art students, skinny junkies, and young punk couples. I can imagine such a double-feature playing at exactly such a place.

They are both truly hybrid works, not simply a “hybrid” of different schools of poetry. Glenum’s Pop Corpse brings to mind some of the more daring elements of the art world: Cindy Sherman’s Gothic, carnival-esque works, Paul Thek’s meatiness, Matthew Barney’s monumentality, the high-wire acts of certain performance artists (Marina Abramovic, the Russian Voina group), Paul McCarthy’s sense of bizarre, repulsive hilarity. In fact, Glenum’s blend of excess and theatricality is closer in spirit to certain sections of the art world than to much of the contemporary American poetry scene, and I can’t help but suspect that admirers of Thek and/or Sherman and/or McCarthy would understand her work better than some of the her fellow experimental poets (some who, because she so thoroughly does not fit into the currently dominant Language Writing /Flarf/Conceptual mode, simply don’t know how to approach her work).

Like many of those artists mentioned above, there is an element of creative ecstasy in Pop Corpse, and, like them, it’s an ecstasy laced with horror and confusion. As the Sea Witch says, “I perch on heaven / habitually / Pig-sized / nipples.” The entire poem/play takes place on “floating islands of garbage” — the “floating islands” implying a beauty and serenity that “garbage” brutally undercuts.


Haute Surveillance is also hybrid. It is infused with film both in style (montage, tableaux) and reference (Blue Velvet, The Wizard of Oz, mumble-core, the character of “the Starlet”). The spirit of Lynch and Godard and Zulawski especially haunt this work, directors who create films that steadfastly refuse to offer us a privileged bird’s eye view of their projects — directors who immerse us in a world, not offer one up as a representational object. Weekend, Made in USA, Inland Empire, Mulholland Drive, Szamanka, On the Silver Globe: these are films that don’t allow for the luxury (and it is a luxury) of distance. So too with Göransson’s book. “Of all the movies I made with the Starlet,” the narrator says, “my favorite was our mumble-version of Hiroshima Mon Amour. Or the Jacobean piece we filmed in a shooting range. The clothes I wore were positively repulsive by the time she was finished with me.”

Of course, Göransson follows a long line of poets who have been fascinated by film. Frank O’Hara is the most obvious example of a poet engaged with the silver screen (or, in our age, the digital screen). And Artaud loved the Marx brothers. But in the past few decades a serious vein of cinemaphobia has crept into the American poetry scene. Part of this is the influence of Language writing. Despite its revolutionary ardor, it had a surprisingly conservative take on the Image, considering it to be empty, false, hollow, a lie. (There were several exceptions to this view: Palmer, Hejinian, Waldrop, etc.) It’s a view that goes all the way back to Plato, at least, as can be seen in the allegory of the cave where concept is plentitude and beings and images are shadows and falsehoods.

Related to this austerity is poetry written in the more mainstream, lyrical mode. As Göransson has pointed out in various blog posts and interviews, and as I’ve heard several others poets claim too through the years, in some workshops an image must be “earned.” It must fit in with the general pattern and be conducive of an overall meaning. Interestingly, the austerity policies of certain Language poets and the fear of inflation in less experimental poetry have more than a little in common.


But an alternate take on the Image sees it not as a false representation of a real object or event, but a new creation, an addition. This is the view of the Stoics, Deleuze, Warhol (as implied by his “Factory” of images), Godard (“cinema is everything”), and Lewis Carroll. Göransson shares this approach. As the narrator writes, “Ever since I was brought to this goo-goo nation, I’ve trafficked in images. About photography, I love the machinery. I can’t understand any of it. It’s like the inside of a woman’s cunt: fascinating and intricate. And gives birth to millions of childrenchildren.” Here, image is a multiplier, not a shadow-play for dupes.

As the influence Language writing wanes, I suspect that this cinemaphobia will drift away. One of the most thrilling books of poetry last year was Lina ramona Vitkauskas’s Neon Tryst, a collection very different from Göransson’s, but which is also evocative of the spectral, haunting dimension of film. And Rauan Klassnik, one of the most brilliant poets around today, writes poetry that appears to be highly informed by the language of cinema, with odd edits, mini-narratives, and a materialist religiosity that seems to stem as much from Pasolini and Buñuel as Bataille.

There is another link between Glenum and Göransson’s two new books, and that is how they are both books about events. While reading them, I kept thinking back on Monsieur Oscar in Leos Carax’s Holy Motors. When the metaphysical performer is asked why he goes on, he answers that it is because of the “beauty of the act.” Both of these books are filled with beautiful (and horrific, and startling) acts, and these acts are related to art-making, art-construction.

As the Smear says in Pop Corpse, “I make a spasmatic pose for the penal colony. I wear a gas mask for the finale. The tourists are allowed to take my photographs if they offer me some food.” And as the narrator in Haute Surveillance writes, “Together we are working in a new medium: sweat clothes. We’re interested in mediumicity. In one sweat cloth we see an image of an artist’s body after a car crash: all ornamental. In another we see a dark lady who may be our lady of the video malaise.” These books are from the Warholian Factory. And because they are books of action and event, they don’t allow us lounge about on a clean, conceptual hillside, above the muck and dirt and sweat. They plunge us into it.

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Free Tilikum, or the Transfiguration of Amber Doll: Radical Passivity in Amber Hawk Swanson’s Doll projects

by on Oct.11, 2012


Others have adopted theories of radical passivity here previously; indeed, the blog is saturated in its submissions to art. These conceptions imbue passivity with agency – or rather, resist this passive/agentive binary altogether, instead recognizing the blurriness of boundaries between subject and object, agency and passivity, domination and submission, toward an aesthetics of mediumicity.

At SDS this year (the Society for Disability Studies conference), Eunjung Kim presented a fascinating paper on radical passivity in relation to sex dolls. The paper, “Why Do Dolls Die? The Power of Passivity and the Embodied Interplay Between Disability and Sex Dolls,” published here, poses a provocative intervention into philosophical debates over personhood recently agitated by Peter Singer’s argument for animal rights, which arrived, disappointingly, alongside a disavowal of the right to life/care of severely disabled (such as “totally unconscious”) humans. Sidestepping the problem of categorizing humanness, Kim turns instead to objects – in this case, sex dolls – with the aim of “undermining efforts to deny a being humanness on the basis of object-like status.” Reading sex dolls as an embodiment of disability in films like Lars and the Real Girl and Air Doll, she explores

how doll bodies make visible and enact passivity in its extreme form, thereby creating a condition for accommodation. The ethics of passivity is to recognize the unmodifiable aspect of object being that enables a subject to become an object to be acted upon, and to actualize the other within the self.  (95)

Lars and Bianca at dinner

Bianca, Lars’ RealDoll companion in Lars and the Real Girl, requires physical care and labor such as being bathed, dressed, and lifted into and out of her wheelchair (102). As those around her work to meet Bianca’s needs and fulfill her desires, they endow her with agentive properties. Bianca’s ability to communicate passively seems to extend offscreen as well – here’s Ryan Gosling in the film’s production notes: “Even when she’s not saying anything, she’s communicating everything. It was amazing to watch” (qtd. in Kim 102).

Dolls like Bianca, who seem to glow with a vital agency all the more powerful for being silent, produce a blurriness between subject and object, active and passive – a betweenness that ultimately proves too uncomfortable for their human companions. “Tellingly,” Kim writes, “their immobility, inaction, incommunicativeness, stupor, and catatonia pose such a dangerous challenge to the able-bodied, normative ontology that the dolls in the films must die” (100). Lars stages Bianca’s suicide by drowning and subsequent funeral, then goes on to pursue a “real” (human-human) relationship.


(continue reading…)

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11 September 1973 and the Atacama Desert: Human, In-human, non-human temporalities and Nostalgia for the Light

by on Sep.11, 2012

On this anniversary of the Pinochet coup, I’ve been thinking about Zurita, the Atacama Desert and the recent film, Nostalgia for the Light (which is available on Netflix streaming).

In this lyric documentary, three human endeavors are juxtaposed in the non-human vastness of the Atacama Desert: astronomers studying the Big Bang, archeologists exhuming bodies of 19th century mine workers (whose camps and mining-towns were converted to concentration camps during the Pinochet regime) and Mothers of the Disappeared combing the desert for the minutest possible bone shards which will give clues to the disappearance (and, hopefully, current gravesite) of their loved ones.

This is harrowing stuff. There is no removing yourself from the affect of this film. I found myself wondering: is affect always human? Is it in- or non-human or is it the stuff of humanness? To me it feels non-human. It grips me from the outside like a thing, not a person. It doesn’t want anything but to spread.

I also began thinking about human/inhuman/nonhuman temporal scales. The astronomers see the non-human scale of the universe as a kind of relief from human/political temporalities. The mineralized bone shards in the desert are made up of calcium created in the Big Bang, and these bone shards seem to be in secret non-human communication with both the desert and the stars. But the Mothers want desperately to tug these bits of mineral back into historical human time, to be able to locate and reassemble the bodies of their murdered family members. Their action is clearly heroic, and clearly ultra human in the humanist sense of the word. But it is also powered and fueled and impelled by grief- by affect. The force of grief. These women are in the desert, combing the desert with little spades. Are they superhuman (and therefor, non- or beyond- human?) Or merely human?


Then there’s the archelogist who points out that we are contemporary humans are not even cognizant of the 19th century as part of our human history. He works to exhume the bodies of laborers who built and toiled in the mines and mining towns which were so easily converted to concentration camps by the Pinochet regime.  The implicit inhuman and erasing nature of capitalism which converts so easily to the inhumanity of the military regime and perhaps also to our contemporary inhuman forgetting of even recent political history all seem to belong to a register which is inhuman, which to my thinking might be just humanity to the ‘nth’ degree, in its most mendacious form. Meanwhile the ultra or superhumanity of the Mothers counter this inhumanity like the inverted double, yin and yang.

Finally there is the post-humanity of the Disappeared themselves. They are Disappeared, and disappeared, but wink back into presence so easily and yet so dissatisfactorily as photographs, bones, shoes, exposed marrow. What about this shredded post-humanity– minerals plus a spectral mediumicity plus a nothingness- a cipher that will not make an account of itself or be entered into the account books as a final resting place, a final figure?

These competing and paradoxical models of humanity and in humanity and non-humanity and post-humanity with their arcing and oscillating temporal scales are piercing and debilitating and with me today as I navigate the 39th anniversary of 11 September.




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The Most Poetic Topic in the World: Some thoughts on Lana Del Ray, Lynch and Hitchcock

by on Jul.27, 2012

“I think of Byzantium, not as a historical location but as an imagined one, a sublime decaying one, a supersaturated one in which gold and garbage fumes pours out of every orifice, a stinking glamorous temporary eternal.” – Joyelle McSweeney

“At first sight, the image does not resemble a cadaver, but it could be that the strangeness of the cadaver is also the strangeness of the image.” – Maurice Blanchot

Did I write about Lana Del Ray yet? I don’t think so, but I’ve thought about it plenty this summer because I’ve been listening to her record constantly (and when I’m not listening to it, I’ve been listening to my young daughters’ rendition of it, nothing like a 5 and a 2 year old shouting “I’ve got summertime sadness” over and over): Death, Art, Beauty and Decadence.
(continue reading…)

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A Phantom, A Nothing, A Triumph: Nijinsky's Mediumicity

by on Jun.23, 2012


I’ve been thinking lately about Vaslav Nijinsky, hearthrob of the Ballet Russes, a man’s whose charismatic force is seemingly undiminished nearly 100 years since he last danced on stage. Here is a dancer , the greatest dancer of the 20th century, of whom there is no film of him dancing. Yet there are myriad photographs, press accounts, memoirs, sketches, paintings, posters, sculptures, and many, many first person accounts. Nijinsky was an artist made for and of media—one classically trained ballerina reported in tears that she fled from the rehearsal hall when Nijinsky insisted that she dance not to the music, but through the music. This sense of artist as permeated by and animated by  Art, of Art moving through the artist and the artist moving through Art, distinguished Nijinsky and made him the medium with which Modernity crashed into and through the ballet, remaking it. He was also the medium through whose body the ballet, fairly benighted in the West at the turn of the last century, crashed into Modernity.

So how to we speak of ‘sincerity’ with an artist like Nijinsky? We could speak of genius, many do, that’s the gold reserve which shores up the currency of sincerity.  But I have another notion- that Nijinsky’s sincerity was his mediumicity. His ‘sincerity’ was his ability to mutate to meet the medium assigned to him, whether a costume, a set of choreographic steps, a sexual fantasy, or a studio photograph, and then to become that medium, to move through that medium, to transform it into something else entirely with the current of his charisma, which is to say, with Art moving through him. This devotion to total mediumicity, to transformation, made him the shapeshifting ‘god of Dance’ many described him as.

This is most clear in contemporary descriptions of Niijinsky dressing for his performances. His ‘sincerity’, his mediumicity, his special quality, really only presented itself when he put on his costumes and makeup. His future wife described his appearance in and as The Spectre of the Rose this way: “His face was that of a celestial insect, his eyebrows suggesting some beautiful beetle which one might expect to find closest to the heart of a rose, and his mouth was like rose petals.”   His biographer writes, “As ever, when costumed and made up, he became possessed. As he danced the endless dance, hardly coming to rest for a moment, weaving evanescent garlands in the air, his lips were parted in ecstasy and he seemed to emit a perfumed gaze.” He then notes, “This shows in the photographs.”

I would argue that it is Nijinsky’s ability to transform and be transformed by the materials he came in contact with that was his genius, his sincerity. (continue reading…)

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Inflation Poetry: Melodrama, Interiority and Kitsch in Dear Ra

by on Jun.20, 2012

It’s interesting that Danielle mentioned my book DEAR RA in her last post because I’ve been thinking about this book quite a bit for the first time in a long while. In part because of AD Jamesons’ discussions about “sincerity” and in part because of Carina’s discussion of melodrama.This book has everything to do with those topics, and the way they depend on various concept of mediumicity and interiority.

I wrote Dear RA at the end of my MFA stay in Iowa, a few months in Seattle and then a few months up in Spanish Harlem – 2000-2001 (but it wasn’t published until years later). I was inspired by the letters of lunatics and serial killers, by the indie rock mixed tapes various girls had made for me (including notably Neutral Milk Hotel, which is why I was interested in reading Jameson’s interpretation of them on HTML Giant the other day, though I didn’t realize that until now).

I wanted to be sincere. I started writing letters to my exgirlfriend, but my feelings were not correct. I didn’t have an interiority, I had a contagion. I didn’t have agency, I had a plastic doll.
(continue reading…)

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Another kind of surrealism, another kind of sincerity: Susan Schultz on Kim Hyesoon

by on Jun.13, 2012

Susan Schultz has an interesting, insightful article up on the Jacket web site about Korean poet Kim Hyesoon, a poet I think is among the essential, most important living poets:

Among recent notices on my Facebook feed was one for the new issue of Big Bridge, in particular a feature on “Neo-surrealism,” edited by Adam Cornford. Cornford’s expansive introduction to the feature, which looks back to the history of surrealism and forward to his selection of living poets, includes this definition of his subject: “What defines a Surrealist poetry today, then, is what has defined it from the outset . . . Surrealist poetry can only be ‘a cry of the mind determined to break apart its fetters.’ It must contribute, intentionally or otherwise, to the liberation of the mind ‘and all that resembles it.’” I’m not here to argue against the mind’s liberation, rather to suggest that newer forms of surrealism can be used effectively to record what occurs before the imagined line break in Cornford’s phrase, “the mind determined to break apart / its fetters.” The breaking apart of a mind, most familiar to me as a product (or anti-product) of dementia and Alzheimer’s, can be tracked through what I’ve elsewhere called “documentary surrealism.”

“Documentary” invokes of course the “documentary poetics” that has been popular over the past few years, but I think “document” is more important in this case (after all stylistically Kim is as far from “documentary poetics” as possible, loaded with feverish vision, kitschy metaphors and beautiful, startling images).

Here are some meaning of “Document” from

1. a written or printed paper furnishing information or evidence, as a passport, deed, bill of sale, or bill of lading; a legal or official paper.
2.any written item, as a book, article, or letter, especially of a factual or informative nature.
3.a computer data file.
4.Archaic . evidence; proof.

I think one key to reading Kim’s work is as engaging with “writing” and “media.” Joyelle coined the phrase “body possessed by media” to describe the artwork of Kim’s daughter, Fi-Jae Lee, but it’s also an apt description of Kim’s poetry (as I’ve described it before on this site):

(continue reading…)

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What Hannah Weiner Means to Me

by on Apr.14, 2012


Not too long ago, I woke up with a sentence in my head:

“Where is Art Going and Where has it Been?”

As a very conventionally educated poet and literary type, I had been ‘raised up’ to believe that artistic creation started and ended with the artist. What was in the classical period referred to as ‘the Muse’ was transformed in the Renaissance to ‘Genius’, the special property of an extraspecial individual. The invidual Genius owned his Genius. He was a master; he created masterpieces; he was surely not visited by lady spectres who planted ideas in his head (except metaphorically speaking, in order to shore up his role as the individual male inheritor of classical Greats). Genius was a sort of tautological current; it was God-given but thereafter was the personal property of the Genius.

Well, ok.  But somewhere in my 20s I realized that this personal-property-genius model was actually a way to set up an artistic 1% and conserve resources there. That is, if we allow that only individuals of Genius possess Genius, and there is naturally a limited amount of Genius in the world, and all the awards, lucky breaks, publictions, etc are awarded by merit, then they should go to those Geniuses, and too bad for the rest of us. Genius and native ‘Merit’ began to seem like codewords to me, or like a forcefield—if you subscribed to them, those notions blocked you from seeing the fact that the literary and art worlds are like any other institutions, based on certain people holding on to certain powers while hiding behind such supposedly great watchwords as ‘Tradition’, ‘Standards’, ‘Genius’.  Words like ‘Genius’, which themselves suggested private ownership of the indelible property of Art, actually were a way to control who controlled Art’s resources.

That’s why it’s been very important to me to discover artists like Hannah Weiner. I think Hannah Weiner was amazingly great in all respects. I love her voice (both on the page, in video, and in audio). I love her bonkers early work with its corny puns and its loopy generosity. In the early performance pieces she made herself a host for Art—she would host both the Coast Guard and the down town arty types to perform her Code Poems, or she would invite the public to her place of business (designing underwear) or sell hotdogs as an edible pun on her name. She would also host forms and genres and media—codes, flags, horns, lights, invitation cards, underwear, a vacuum, police tape, etc. At such events, her own person became a site where all these different groups and media made contact and relayed energies and transformed each other—dots and bars became light, words became hotdogs, concept became performance, charisma (her own) became conviviality (of the group). And she never took these events too seriously, even though what she hosted was the most vital Art process of all– she channeled the eternal force of Art into material and into human temporality, made Art arrive and perform. Art comes to a human address. (continue reading…)

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"Strange Circus": Horror Movies, Surrealism, Trauma and Art

by on Jan.09, 2012

In a comment to Lucas’s post, Lara wrote about Trauma:

Johannka, you asked me how I think trauma functions on MV? My sense is that we’re collectively pretty traumatized by the horrific state of things, what Joyelle calls “this present hellish universe.” We are all very hungry for pleasure, despite this. Or maybe, to spite this.

We often feel crushingly trapped/threatened. We are collectively trying to tunnel a way out through art that makes us “susceptible, vulnerable, exhilarated, chagrined, obliterated, changed into Art” (again, Joyelle’s words).

Sometimes I’m able to locate pleasure in my own debasement. Sometimes I’m not. I’m not often able to locate pleasure in the debasement/humiliation of others, even if it’s clearly staged. In fact, it totally repulses me. I don’t feel “intrigued but chagrined.” This is a visceral reaction, not a moral one.

My intestines are my morals. I am a limited creature. Only one of my six legs actually works.

It’s this seeming tension between pleasure and debasement, horror and beauty, trauma and trauma, resolution and compulsion, marked out by both Joyelle and Lara, that I would like to think a little bit about.


Matthias Forshage, one of the founding members of the Surrealist Group of Stockholm, who wrote “Surrealism in Ulterior Times” with Aase Berg (a document frequently quoted on Montevidayo, it’s where Joyelle and I get the phrase “meet us with the lemurs”), has written an interesting article about the surrealism of horror movies (in fact the entire blog is well worth reading):

It is one of the main points of surrealism to not deny the unusual phenomena and their dynamism, but still reject all these more or less religious poor explanations, avoid succumbing to premature rationalisations. In the movies, let them go on with their fairytale concepts, they’re not fooling us, we know that the dynamism of weird happenings, chance and significant casual events is an aspect of life itself, and such a dynamism can be remarkably effectively simulated and savoured in the particular fiction of the horror movie. It contributes to teaching us to see. It orchestrates and emphasises those poetic atmospheres where everything is hanging in suspense and anything seems possible, the moments of the surreal. On the most simple level this is obvious in films of hauntings; all these haunted houses, the poltergeists, the insistent messages and the chaotic disturbances. It’s partly very banal, still often very effective, sometimes orchestrating a liberation of the anti-utilitarian, fetishistic or just poetic surrealist sense of the object, sometimes luminous juxtapositions, constellations of things, true poetic images, classic surrealist assemblage. A literally convulsive beauty is sometimes achieved in the very “over-the-top” absurdness of many stories; where strange events and convergences, personal tragedies and emotions are so densely accumulated together with the unfettered expressionism of blood and gore (for this particular line, Re-animator (1985) remains a centerpiece). In a way this is the old formula of Walpolian Gothic, plausible human reactions to implausible courses of events, the mechanics of the mind encountering the world of inclusiveness where anything is possible, the so-called paranormal or maybe the surreal. Yes, on an aesthetical level, this is clearly a kind of expressionism, but since surrealism is not an aesthetic it doesn’t mind employing other aesthetics for its purposes…

It is the ambience that I love in horror movies, before all the weirdness has been explained away, usually through some idea of the traumatic: ghosts and hallucinations were caused by a child dying or child abuse or some such tragedy. Often it involves the child because the child represents the future; horror movies are often about the tragedy of stalling the future, the descent into anachronism or children who will never grow up, distorted families etc. I get bored with these explanations, but the build up always feels the most tumultuous to me, the most affecting.

It seems perhaps that there are two models of the traumatic at work here: (continue reading…)

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"The Female Grotesque" – Interview with Kim Hyesoon

by on Jan.03, 2012

There’s a great interview with one of the world’s most fascinating poets, Kim Hyesoon, up on the web site Guernica. A lot of the discussion concerns the inspiration for KH’s work and I love the way KH sites the source of poetry in disease:

She sites it obviously here:

I went to an international poetry festival in Rotterdam, Netherlands recently. I heard one poet saying that poets are healthy people and poets talk to the world through their health. When I heard them saying that, I wondered who judges which one is healthy or not? In my opinion, poets talk through the symptoms of disease. These symptoms of disease are predictions, screams, and songs.

(continue reading…)

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Puke Silk: Rihanna and Kim Hyesoon

by on Dec.07, 2011

As readers of this blog may know, one of my favorite poets is Kim Hyesoon and one of my favorite pop singers is Rihanna. They are very different, but they also have some things in common – the way the body seems traversed by media, causing vomiting and inhaling, singing and eating of a kind of volatile mediumicity. Instead of interiority, you have this media that traverses the body.

This post is an ars poetica written while wearing green earphones and tracing burn marks on my skin.

For me the key moment in Rihanna’s new video comes at 4:03:

There she vomits out some kind of purple foam. This comes as the culmination of the nauseating montage of drug-taking and nauseating euro dance music. It seems genre conventions are driven to a point where the video convulses the medium out of itself, out of the “medium’s” (Rihanna’s) mouth. One of the things I like about Rihanna’s videos is the way they way her body seems constantly “corrupted” by media, never self-contained, always shot through by colors, by drugs, by special effects. Things move through her.

She is a “loser” in that she can’t even shoplift correctly (she starts to fuck and waste the products) -she’s wasteful, all expenditure. But she’s also a very powerful loser: she throws a dart at the wall and a house collapses, an atom bomb goes off.

This all remind me of Joyelle’s post from a long time ago about a “body possessed by media” in discussing Fi Jae Lee’s work:

The Korean artist Fi Jae Lee’s work operates in this zone of contamination, inflammation and metasization. Her work is multimedia, but with none of the technophilic, flow-chartish nicety and expertise that term has begun to imply. There are too many media here, too many, even, for the multimedia environment of the Internet—her website has too many images to get a sense of the whole body of work; so much text crowds the text window that the scrollbars must be constantly manipulated to bring more into view; on my screen the crucial scrollbars are occluded. As for her art work itself, it involves sculpture, painting, installation, monologues, her own body and hair, the performance of rituals. As much as they are brimming over with color, texture, scale, activity and sensation, they are also lousy with text, text which is a bad fit for the artwork, in that it seems to occupy a testy, inflamed adjacency.

(continue reading…)

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Star Fuckers – Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, James Pate, Nick Demske and Old Dirty Bastard

by on Nov.30, 2011

[Warning: I don’t know much about the Rolling Stones so if somebody wants to clue me into any background errors etc, please feel free.]

The other day Joyelle and I were in Pittsburgh talking about the necropastoral at a conference called ASAP. Joyelle went to a panel that talked about how “Star Star” by the Rolling Stones was actually addressed to Candy Darling and evidence of Mick Jagger having been drawn into “Andy Warhol’s orbit.” Apparently, upon entering into this “orbit,” Jagger began to model his look and appearance on Andy’s transvestite “superhuman crew” (Bob Dylan had been pulled into the Warhol orbit some five-ten years earlier). In other words, he was a superstar who became a “superstar.”

I think “orbit” and especially Raggedy Andy’s “orbit” of super saturating art/life is an interesting way of thinking about an alternative to influence/lineage and all that: “a zone where interesting things happen.” A necropastoral “strange meeting.”

First, here’s the song and the lyrics:

“Star Star”
Songwriters: Keith Richards;Mick Jagger

Baby, baby, I’ve been so sad since you’ve been gone
Way back to New York City
Where you do belong
Honey, I missed your two tongue kisses
Legs wrapped around me tight
If I ever get back to Fun City, girl
I’m gonna make you scream all night
(continue reading…)

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