Mediumicity

Chuvash Poet of the Week: Gennady Aygi

by on Nov.28, 2011

I am a techno-mystic poet and I love mystic poets, even when the content of their mysticism (Humanity; Humanism; God) contrasts with mine (Non- or Ab-humanity; the Inhuman;Art). I feel like we are driving towards the same thing: revelation: the point at which the medium of the poem, the cave we have built with language and image in order to spelunk through, goes suddenly convex, bursts back at us with an unsurvivable strafing content. For me that content is Art, mediumicity itself, dark matter; for nicer people, it’s God, compassion, etc.

In the case of Alice Notley’s Culture of One, that relevatory force is Mercy, though I think her Merc y is of such multiply positive and negative valences that she goes in both categories. The Sublime, it seems to me, goes in my camp: it’s just Pow’r, Pow’r itself, and like a horifically high dose of radiation, it has no message of healing for us at all.

The translator Sarah Valentine and Wave Books have made it possible for we Anglophones to finally read Into the Snow: Selected Poems of Gennady Aygi (tho’ Aygi poems are all over the internet on blogs etcs as well as in several indie press editions). Valentine’s very engaging introduction makes Aygi’s eminence clear, as well as the drama of his 20th century life; one of the greatest avant garde poets of the former Soviet Union, he stopped writing in his native Chuvash language because to do so earned it the label of ‘hostile poetry’; at the same time, he changed his name to a typically Chuvash surname, in order that his minority identity  would not be eradicated, even as he went on to write in Russian and publish outside the country  in smuggled and samizdat editions.

I enjoyed the breathless texture and brevity of these poems– as if they could barely bear themselves– but most of all  I liked the light and limbic and almost chitininous mysticism of the earlier poems in the book.  My favorite is “Dream: Flight of the Dragonfly.” This poem starts out in a radiant nowhere, alight on the confused and desperate drafts of catastrophe.  It begins: (continue reading…)

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80s Pop and Gothic Plague Stages (my last thoughts about Imperiet and Thåström, I promise)

by on Aug.23, 2011

It’s interesting that when I wrote the post about “plague stages,” and quoted PJ Harvey expressing a certain ambivalence about the period in the mid-90s when she went “kabuki” or “drag” or “Joan Crawford on acid,” ie when she was saturated by Art, I thought of an earlier post I had written about the Swedish 80s band Imperiet. In that post I quoted Thåström the lead singer and songwriter as saying he felt embarrassed about everything he’d done in the 80s – ie the decadent synth-cabaret of Imperiet, not the “authentic,” more direct politics of his 70s punk band Ebba Grön (ie “The Haters”, except that by the end of that band, it was pretty Joan Crawford Kabuki as well) – basically because it was too “poetic.” (See previous posts about poetic, kitsch, “excessively beautiful.”)

And certainly his lyrics with Imperiet were incredibly “poetic.” The song “Holländskt Porslin” begins: “Through the rain of your tears/I will send you a letter/ten thousand wild roses/and a song I never wrote.” Wow. Talk about kitsch. It’s like a guidebook in kitsch!
(continue reading…)

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Art is of the Animal: Tori Amos & the Breastfeeding Piglet

by on Aug.11, 2011

If To Bring You My Love was the album that overwhelmed and saturated PJ Harvey by turning the musician into a dramatic vessel for art, it was Boys for Pele that took Tori Amos’ mediumicity to new lows and heights beyond theatricality. Staged in the Gothic south, the album’s artwork unravels its own staginess.  While one photograph depicts Amos in a rocking chair with a gun in her lap, dead cocks at her side, and snakes slithering on a deck, in the enclosed booklet Amos accidentally suckles a piglet as per an interview:

“Um, that day, the little critter was 4 days old. And he was with me for hours. And was scared, and hungry, and just kind of fell right in on there.”

In the same interview Amos jokes about “nurturing the non-kosher” and explains the photo as a reclamation of shame.  In another interview, she recalls a childhood memory of her father covering her eyes before another woman’s exposed breastfeeding.  If it’s clear that the photo thus responds to the ways in which women’s bodies are estranged and debased, the piglet attached to Amos’ breast exceeds identity as an interpretive frame.  Identity, I think, is just what the photo ends up evacuating (along with any possibility of a mask).  As a disorientation of the “Madonna and Child,” the image achieves its sacred glow precisely through profanation.  In the piglet figured as Jesus, we see an improperly Christian separation of life–an unthinkable and unnamable cross-species encounter that awes us because of the nonhuman infant it exalts.

While elevating the piglet religiously, however, the photo reduces and confuses the porcine and human at the level of flesh.  This posthumanism, as it were, lies in the sudden conviviality of bodies opening up to each other:  Amos herself sings in the album’s “Blood Roses,” “Sometimes you’re nothing but meat.”  Sometimes, in other words, art emerges as the accidental scene of authenticity–of an act that spills through its subjects, spills subjects into each other, spills over the art-frame.  The authentic act thus erupts as a matter of bodily matter, or unrestrained and unpredictable touch, taste, milk, blood, flow:  a totally undifferentiating sensation.

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Rat-Rose Mysticism: On Seyhan Erözçelik’s Rosestrikes and Herzog’s Nosferatu

by on Aug.09, 2011

1. ROSE

I am currently swooned and infused by the contemporary Turkish poet Seyhan Erözçelik’s Rosestrikes and Coffee Grounds (Talisman, 2010), translated from Gül ve Telve(1997) by Murat Nemet-Nejat.  In this dazzling double volume, a reading of fate via coffeegrounds makes up the first portion of the book, and the resultant mystical vision or ‘Rosestrikes’ makes up the second. A mindbending series poem,  ‘Rosestrikes’ rides mysticism to the limit, a limit marked, classically and tautologically enough, by the Rose.  The Rose is both the emblem of the mystical motion and its destination, so the series itself has an infinite yet twisting motion that is constantly saturating, arresting, and sinking back into itself, riding the weirdness of Art’s broken Moebius strip:

 

Roseblood

My eyes caught a rose the whole night

round mindnight, a needle on a rose,

to my eyes stuck, a potent liquid

is flowing from my eyes, as if roseblood…

  (continue reading…)

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An Alligator's Influence: Part 1

by on Jul.04, 2011


“What Art conducts: Itself: Art: its potential: its fecundity; its contaminatoriness: in and of itself; its viral mediumicity; its monstrosity; its sound; its vibribration; its stutter; its contagion; flightlike or fluid; its inhuman influence.”

Thinking about influence in the terms Joyelle outlines above, I can’t help but dwell on the subject of my current writing:  the alligator attack that killed a close friend of mine several years ago.

I want to approach my project through a detour into The Alligator People, a fascinating (and sort of terrible) sci-fi flick from 1959. The film is about the disabled patients of an inventive doctor whose treatment is based on reptilian hormones.  Because of their potent healing properties, the hormones save the life of the protagonist, depicted above, and regenerate his missing limbs.  The unforeseen pitfall is that the recipients of such hormones turn into alligator-human hybrids.  Their state is one of species limbo and existential shame.  Unbeknownst to their families, they live in a makeshift hospital in the swamp.  When an experiment gone awry exacerbates the protagonist’s crocodilian features, transforming him into a being more alligator than man, he panics in the wilderness, in his wildness.  He drowns in quicksand while his screaming wife looks on ashore. (continue reading…)

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Influence = Deformation Zone (A Telex from Solaris)

by on Jun.24, 2011

[Hello, I”m actually on a train in East Anglia but I’m not thinking of Sebald, I’m thinking of you, Montevidayans, the Scum of Baghdad, as Jack Smith would call you. I’d like to post the paper I just gave at a conference called Worlds Norwich.]

Influence = Deformation Zone

Against Lineage

I want to begin by suggesting my discomfort with the conventions of discussing literary influence. I want to suggest that influence need not come from literary forebears, elders, teachers, or even people. For me this notion of influence, regardless of the gender of the participants, is too close to patrilineage, which bothers me for three reasons: its method of conserving property and wealth, ownership of originality; its copying over of heterosexist, male dominated bloodlines and the reproductive futurism that goes with it; and its commitment to linear notions of temporality—that what comes before causes what comes after, and that the most important thing is to move forward in time. I find all these structures suffocating and confining. I think we’re all conceptually limited by the unexamined assumptions about  temporality, property, gender, sexuality, wealth and inheritance implicit in most discussions of literary influence, regardless of the gender of the writers under discussion.

Influence as Innundation

It seems to me that a discussion of literary influence would benefit from an effort to think outside these structures and strictures. I’m for thinking of influence in terms of the dead metaphors of flow, flux, fluidity, and fluctuation, saturation and supparation, inherent in the term ‘influence’ itself, influence as total innundation with Art, innundation with a fluctuating, oscillating, unbearable, sublime, inconsistent and forceful fluid.

Influence as Dead Metaphor

That such a discussion should require the reanimation of a dead metaphor—the fluid or flow in ‘influence’– is non-coincidental, to my mind, for to think this way about Art is to think about it as something undead, uncanny, something that does not progress, does not move towards a cleaner, better-lighted future, does not conserve, is not healthy or community oriented, does not preserve a stable, reasonably priced image of the artist for the future or secure an inheritance, but pursues its own interests, pierces, ravages, remakes the artist and repurposes him or her as a kind of host-body to counterfeit more viral Art in its own image, Art which possesses the Artist, forces him or her to swell, mutate, to rupture and leak fluids, to leak more Art into the world. To my mind, that is the thrilling, debilitating force of Art, its influence.
(continue reading…)

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China Miéville's Brain-Eating Art Part I: I'm in this Fucking Business for the Monsters

by on Jun.06, 2011

Our Hero, China Miéville

“I’m in this fucking business for the monsters. Unfortunately, you can’t really sell books of monsters to publishers. They insist on stories linking them.” –China Miéville

China Miéville’s 2000 blockbuster Perdido Street Station, in its digestible, pulped, summer-reading paperbacked form, features 623 pages of monsters, which clutch and breed and form by virus or violence, the virus or violence of the prose itself. Though the book’s title proposes the geographical center of a brain-like city, in fact the novel  and the city has no center; long after it’s advisable, Miéville’s novel goes adding on chambers and corridors and domes and sewers and hovels and run-off and wrecks and holes and ructions and flows and bodies and species that move, link and split like these. Its star inhabitant is a protean and innovative(and ruthless) gangster named Mr Motley, pure hybridity (a paradox), and pure violence, too, described thusly:

Scraps of skin and fur and feathers swung as he moved; tiny limbs clutched; eyes rolled from obscure niches; antlers and protrusions of bone jutted precariusly; feelers twitched and mouths glistened. Many-coloured skeins of skin collided. A cloven hoof thumped gently against the wood floor. Tides of flesh washed against each other in violent currents. Muscles tethered by alien tendons to alien bones worked together in uneasy truce, in slow tense motion. Scales gleamed. Fins quivered. Wings fluttered brokenly. Insect claws folded and unfolded. [38]

Hybridity, monstrosity, the Pharmakon: Motley is Art as pure media. In this scene, the drug lord, Mr. Motley, the Pharmacist himself, is displaying himself for an artist who will make a portrait of him; he ‘paces towards her like a hunter’—he first hires, then incarcerates this artist, torturing her and forcing her to produce a double of himself. That’s Art’s hybridity, its fluctuation, and its violence, too.

Meanwhile mobile mutant druglabs known as slake moths fly above the brain-shaped city of New Crobuzon, shitting nightmares on the populace, a waste matter which can also be processed into a street drug named ‘dream shit’; warping the climate like the Gulf Stream or like the greenhouse effect created by multiple CEOS flying their Gulf Streams; ambiguating rather than disambiguating;  attaching  to their victims through the eyes; instead of mother tongue, the moth’s tongue a power takeover; but first mesmerizing the victims whose brains they are about to suck by displaying themselves as pure, killer Art.

The thing unfolded. The sense was of a blossoming. An expansion after being enclosed, like a  man or woman standing and spreading their arms wide after huddling foetally, but multipled and made vast. As if the thing’s indistinct limbs could bend a thosand times, so that it unhinged like a paper sculpture, standing and spreading arms or legs or tentacles or tails that opened and opened. […] Eyes that were not eyes. Organic folds and jags and twists like rats’ tails that shuddered and twitched as if newely dead. And those finger-long shards of coulourless bone that shone white and parted and dripped and that were teeth. […]

The killer slake-moth, Art, Influence, moves in for the kill by displaying its irresistable wings for delectation by the eyes. The eyes become orifices not of insight but of inward motion, of extraction. The wings are Art as pure medium, uncut Art, Art that is always too much, that Pharmakon, that blows you away, that is always an overdose. An infectious, overwritten text on pulp paper as if extruded from the jaws of silk moths. Roiling, boiling, multiplying, opening and opening, flickering, moving on its own time, moving in through the eyes. For all its detail, the slake-moth is almost unseeable; the prose will not form a single body. It can’t con-form,  it can’t choose a direction and go with it, it’s excess, pure mediumicity, which is to say, ultracontent, it’s beguiling, it creates the weather, a choatic current, a timescale of its own and it overflows its own bank which an ‘and ‘and ‘and.’ It breaks the bank. It rolls and boils. That’s influence. Forcefull. Random. Fluid. Another word for it is Art.

The slake-moths cannot be slaked. They are insatiable. Insatiable, narcotic, mobile, fluxing, overflowing, Brain-eating Art.

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On Maximalism, 1: An Eye & an Eye: Or, What does Art Require of Us

by on May.17, 2011

1.What does Art command, how does Art issue its demands?

Art's sleepwalker

a clusterfuck

2. Art’s command is a command to repeat, to mirror, to double, to drag, to copy, to issue copies, corrupt copies, mutating copies, inexact copies, unfaithful copies, blurred and smeared copies, hallucinatory copies, obscene copies, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, to accumulate so many copies that the copies become a poison, to go beyond what can be borne, beyond the maximum. Art downloads its program into the body and reprograms the body’s functions for making copies of itself. Art is a virus, malware, a clusterbomb, a clusterfuck.

3.Any aperture or medium or means of egress will work, & Art will eat its own apertures if necessary. But Art’s preferred orifice is the eye. Indeed, any orifice stands in for the eye: a puking, shitting, sweating, tearing, bleeding eye: an artificial eye: Art’s insignia.

"It is engendered in the eye--"

4.This is why, in Oedipus Rex, it must be the blind prophet Tiresias that Oedipus consults to find out who has murdered his father (a murder Oedipus himself has committed, of course). For the blind seer Tiresias, blindness is sight. It is the sight that burns, a violent sight, like laser vision, a dangerous vision he is at first afraid to unloose. He is a medium this vision because his eyes have been repurposed from their conventional biological function (sight) towards this mediumicity. This vision is a paradox: vision and blindness are coterminous, are twinned; born at the same time; crowding the same orifice; issued in pain; infectious.

5.O to T: “You’ve lost your power/stoneblind, stone-deaf—senses, eyes blind as stone!”
O to T: “Blind, lost in the night, endless night that nursed you! /You can’t hurt me or anyone else who sees the light, you can never touch me!”
O to T: “this scheming quack/this fortune-teller peddling lies, eyes peeled/for his own profit—seer blind in his craft!”
T to O: “I will never shrink from the anger in your eyes, you can’t destroy me”
T to O:“You with your precious eyes/you’re blind to the corruption in your life”
T to O: “Go in and reflect on that, solve that./And if you find I’ve lied/frm this day onward call the prophet blind.

6.The terms “eyes” and “blind”, so prevelant in these exchanges, are not just there for irony or statement of theme. The terms become objects, pile up, accumulate so much blindness and black eyes as to make a blind spot which both replaces and is identified as vision: a vision of evil, of corrupt blood, of blackness. Resultingly, Oedipus is blinded not so much by his own action or his own guilt but simply as a compulsion to accommodate the blindness piling up all over the stage. He twins Art’s medium, Tiresias. He becomes a medium for violent vision. He does not only pluck out his eyes, he sticks gold brooches in them. Thus the site of blindness is bejeweled and adorned with Art, “of Grecian Gold and Gold enamelling”, the black blood of blindness flows out around the brooches, the pestilence that has plagued Thebes finds a locus in his eyes and spreads out from there—a paradoxically fluid, visible blindness.

7.The same relationship may be seen in David Lynch’s Moholland Drive. Here it is Club Silencio where, paradoxically, one goes to listen. The orifice of the ear is a standin for the orifice of the eye; the singer’s eyes are fantastically made up and the camera lodges there. The singer sings ‘llorando’ (crying) and the protagonists begin to cry, their faces contorted, their eyes (and their eyemakeup) seemingly melted. When the singer collapses, ‘llorando’ remains; singing remains; crying remains; Art remains, having ravished and destroyed the body it has moved through, and moved on to new bodies, given the twinned-but-not-identical protagonists new faces (they are be-wigged, bad copies of each other), contorted into tragic grimaces, marked for Art, shedding Art from their orifices.

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Ambient Shame, Bhanu Kapil, and National Poetry Month

by on Apr.06, 2011

A feral child

To celebrate National Poetry Month the right way, Bhanu Kapil pursues the question of shame among women writers of color in a Harriet post brilliantly titled “Asian Vampire Sensuality and Other Problems”:

“There’s that, and also shame: the complicated mixture of shame, vulnerability and aggression that comes with —

With what? I can’t really talk about it. Without exposing my own body to view.”

Bhanu nevertheless offers performance as a way of working out this feeling so that the body is “in a different time.”  She evokes “[t]he scream that comes at the beginning of life. Or love.”

This sounds to me like a purposeful reorientation of intensity—or in Bhanu’s words, a recirculation and redistribution of shame—that opens the latter up as an aperture to different spatiotemporal planes.  Different sites of the body.

Bhanu’s discussion brings to mind many of the thoughts on mediumicity explored by Joyelle, Johannes, and perhaps others on this blog.  For instance, is ambient violence also ambient shame?  Is the text by a marginalized writer sometimes a medium of ambient violence/shame if such violence/shame is that which “runs from the book to the reader as redundancy, repetition, and coercion”? (continue reading…)

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Snuff Film Aesthetics: Chris Burden, The Ring and The Bodies Possessed byMedia

by on Mar.09, 2011

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

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

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

The Ring:

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

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Corey on Necropastoral

by on Jan.27, 2011

Josh Corey has an interesting post up on his blog about the Necropastoral. Here’s an excerpt:

“But I need to think more about the larger, rather seductive claims Joyelle seems to be making about pastoral in general. Necropastoral seems rather more specific than “postmodern pastoral” or even “avant-pastoral,” the terms I’ve grown accustomed to playing with; it would seem to go beyond a pastoral that merely foregrounds its own artifice, the better to play with the tradition of turning nature into a standing reserve for sovereign authority and cultural norms. Is it a zombie pastoral, the pleasure of the walking dead in devouring brains, the hypersublime viral pleasure of mindless multiplication, unlife, earth without world?”

I would say that this observation seems to be getting at Joyelle’s ideas: “”This “mediumicity” seems very similar to Timothy Morton’s notion of ambience as the tendency of environmental writing in general to “re-mark” the boundary between subject and object, transgressing that boundary even, without ever erasing it.” Especially since we’ve been discussing “ambient violence” on this blog.

I would say that I’m a bit perplexed by Josh’s distinction of Apollonian and “cerebral” Lisa Robertson and the supposedly Dionysian Plath. I think this raw-vs-cooked binary doesn’t work at all for me. I have a hard time imagining either Plath or Joyelle as non-cerebral (and Joyelle invokes Cocteau as a model all the time, very Apollo). Perhaps this is another case of distance vs absorption. I’m trying to think this over, think if the Morton paradigm (tho I haven’t read him, I’m taking this from Josh’s post) can be used to move away from the raw-vs-cooked type of dichotomies.

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Some Versions of the Necropastoral: Plath's Ariel

by on Jan.14, 2011

Red White and Blue Ariel

In my last post, I thought about Jack Smith’s Normal Love as an exemplar of the ‘necropastoral’, a term which denaturalizes the pastoral by focusing on its always/already unnatural qualities. In its classical form, the pastoral is a kind of membrane on the urban, an artificial, counterfeit, impossible, anachronistic version of an alternative world that is actually the urban’s double, contiguous, and thus both contaminatory and ripe for contamination, a membrane which, famously, Death (and Art) can easily traverse (Hence, Et in Arcadia Ego).

I’ve started reading through Ariel again, and it’s striking to me the degree to which this text works as necropastoral. (continue reading…)

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Andy Warhol as the Angel of Anachronism

by on Jan.07, 2011

Marilyn Monroe and Charlie McCarthy

I’ve been thinking through a theory of Anachronism lately. My thinking goes that Art is a kind of Anachronism, breaking into, collapsing, and convulsing conventional ‘straight’ time with media, and, reflexively, turning conventional chronology into a kind of medium for convulsive, Anachronistic time. In genre writing, it’s genre itself that deforms conventional narrative form and distends it with excessive contagious, intolerably Anachronistic material. In working against progress, unity, sanity, hygiene, tradition, cause and effect, temporal order, antecedence and posterity, Art’s anachronism may be seen as diabolical. (continue reading…)

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