Occult

Wunderkammer: Kitsch and Violence in Cynthia Cruz, Lara Glenum, Plath and Celan

by on Jan.29, 2015

Lately I’ve been reading this new book Wunderkammer by Cynthia Cruz. The title refers to cabinets of curiosity, or wunderkammers, a subject matter I’m interested in. These chambers (sometimes rooms, sometimes boxes) was how back in pre-modern-science days people collected curiosities, often from other parts of the world, objects not following some kind of scientific classificatory system but rather tied together by their capacity to incite “wonder.”

Cruz-font-cover

In the book Artificial Kingdom, Celeste Olalquiaga traces kitsch back to this “science”, which in its undead state turns into things like the “fern-craze” of Victorian England, when people would get aquariums and put ferns in them. I’m fascinated the wunderkammer’s inevitable connection between collecting, imperialism, decadence/death and of course Art.

I might even say that Surrealism – which so often stands in for “kitsch” in contemporary US poetry discussions – is based on the idea of the wunderkammer – with its collection of strange, useless, outdated objects brought together by occult forces. Benjamin famously called surrealism “dream kitsch”; and Clement Greenberg called Max Ernst “postcard kitsch.” Between those two phrases you get the connection between the wunderkammer and surrealism.

Of course this can be seen most clearly in Joseph Cornell’s boxes:

cornell.parrot-juan-gris

These boxes of dream-trash, rescued from the garbage heap of New York City’s dreams.

Cruz’s poems are almost all wunderkammers – some of the poems are actually called wunderkammer, but even the ones that aren’t have the sense of a collection of objects brought together by some strange act:

WUNDERKAMMER

A Greek crime mars the pastoral.
Charts and maps, an atlas of anesthesia-
Laced nostalgia. A long haired, white
Rabbit, muffled, shot, and stuffed.
And old yellow chiffon gown, the ribbon
Hem, ripped and red wine stained.
Curricula of the mundane.
Symptoms of trauma, like ghost
Spots of water on crystal
That will not be washed off.

In many ways this poem seems to straight up describe a Cornell box. Like Cornell, Cruz’s poem is invested in the necroglamorous: the rabbit is stuffed, the chiffon gown old and stained, the crystal has ghost spots. But it is glamorous nonetheless, anesthesized by “nostalgia” and more specifically the nostalgia for glamor. The numbing seems to be physical: the speaker seems stuck like a stuffed rabbed, she cannot “wash off” the atmosphere of the piece, which primarily consists of the “chiffon gown” -its material seems to immobilize her. She cannot really get out of the box so to speak until the negative ending “will not be washed off” which for me works as a relief from the stultifying, stunting but beautiful glamour.
(continue reading…)

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Prisoners: A Prepper’s Nightmare

by on Nov.17, 2014

Prisoners takes as its protagonist Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), a man we might describe as a blue collar conservative Christian American who values family and self-reliance and views as intrinsically unreliable the fragile, gigantic, global apparatus we all cling to, dangling precariously as we are over the void. We might also describe him as a prepper. This movie is basically a prepper nightmare.

[Full spoilers ahead, like immediately – abandon all hope from here on out] (continue reading…)

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Flowers of Violence: Atrocity Kitsch and American Poetry

by on Nov.11, 2014

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a response to Gregory Orr’s essay in the Writer’s Chronicle, in which he argues that Wordsworth is fundamentally democratic in his preface to the Lyrical Ballads because he argues for a non-flowery, non-poetic language that Orr sees as “open” to the lower classes.

But as I pointed out, this rejection of the “gaudy and inane phraseology” is anti-kitsch rhetoric. Further, Wordsworth was definitely not lower class, though he both used the ballad form (a fake lower class form) for an elite audience.
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But I wanted to point out another element of Orr’s essay and that’s his use of a soldier-poet as an example for how poetry should be “emotion recollected in tranquility” (rather than say poems written in the state of disaster). Orr writes that he had read a manuscript by an un-named contemporary US poet about his time as a soldier in Vietnam, and how the two poems he wrote while in Vietnam stuck out from the manuscript, not only as bad poems but as unreal poems (I can’t quite remember the exact word Orr uses). The poet-soldier needed distance to achieve a tranquility in order to really process the poetry.

Orr also gives a moving account of accidentally killing his own brother and how it took him years to process this violence.
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As I’ve written before, violence is everwhere. And poetry is not difference. The artistic experience is often a violent one. But contemporary American poetry critics still seems obsessed with distancing poetry from the violence of art and the violence of the world at large. It’s the dangers/fears of “aestheticizing violence” (which according to Benjamin is what the Nazis did, more about the Nazi-art connection some other time). And yet, violence is constantly brought in as a way of understanding poetry. Orr has to bring the war into his essay in order to remove poetry from it.

The thing that interests me about bringing it in is the way he joins the “gaudy and inane phraseology” of flowery language – of poetic language, of kitsch – to violence. Kitsch is violence. The poetic is inhuman.

*
In Orr’s article, it’s a way to show the importance of achieving distance. I sometimes think about a post I remember reading on John Gallaher’s blog a long time ago, in which he referenced an essay by Hank Lazer about a panel on poetry in the mid 80s. The crux of the discussion between different poets (some language poets and some not) was the prevalence of feeling:

(continue reading…)

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On White Uncreativity and the Mongrel Imagination: Interview at Entropy

by on Oct.31, 2014

From Gina Abelkop’s interview with me at Entropy:

Tell me your favorite things about the loose community of artists that you’re a part of, if you’re a part of one in some way, shape or form. What is most exciting about the work you see coming out of this community? Do you make work in response to any of it? What do you wish to see coming out of this community that you feel is lacking or underrepresented?

I still thank my lucky stars that Johannes Goransson and Joyelle McSweeney invited me to join Montevidayo, a poetry blog and haven for anyone who believes in insurrections instead of communities. It’s quieter now than it used to be, but the blog’s imprint on my mind continues to help me work through the inseparability of form and politics, and to think about both categories as entirely immanent to the writer’s process. What I cherish in Monte and its constellations, in particular, is a shared commitment to the otherworldly potential of art. In my version of this model, the writer gives herself over to the poem, foregoing foresight and mastery in order to allow for a fully experienced deviation. The poem, in other words, becomes a sacred space that spiritualizes alien perspectives at the same time as the writer bodies them forth. The result is an animation of ‘her’ words, a ghostly dynamic of exchange. Maybe what I’m describing is actually the backchannel of the dispossessed… a passage of energy mutating throughout multiple realities… spilt souls coursing in and out of open veins. Deprived of the right to claim property, illegible to all but the most occulted traditions and lineages, this kind of writer may have no choice but to enact a “production of difference” rather than fall back on the luxury of “imitation” (Luiz Costa Lima). Of course, an imagination with so much reach would barely make a blip under Empire. It blooms not in the Empirical but in the rim and realm of the invisible, blacked-out, and metaphysical. It is the mongrel other to 21st-century white lack, appropriation, and self-projection.

Karen Valentim's mural in the neighborhood of Jesus de nazaré, in Vitoria, Brazil

Karen Valentim’s mural in the neighborhood of Jesus de Nazaré, in Vitoria, Brazil

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“Jack Nicholson’s mind is possessed. Like my body, my dress.”: on Sara Tuss Efrik’s “Night’s Belly”

by on Jul.23, 2014

Johannes asked me to talk about my translation of Sara Tuss Efrik’s “The Night’s Belly” (Nattens Mage), a hellish three-part fairy tale of wombs and charred rooms that draws on Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the story of Sleeping Beauty (or Thorn Rose; Little Briar Rose), Little Red Riding Hood, and possibly even Polanksi’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). “There are plots against people, aren’t there?” This is the question a frantic, phone booth-encased Rosemary desperately asked after being cruelly deceived by her husband. In “The Night’s Belly,” Efrik’s female protagonist similarly carries a child of unknown origin. A swelling devil-red child—sometimes described as having pincers, or flapping wings. A throbbingly painful monstrosity. Possibly the child of her husband’s “red mistress” (who later evolves into more of a Macbeth-style witch-mistress), Efrik’s protagonist continuously obsesses over the unfaithful husband’s activities:

“The nipples smarted, the pubic hair frizzed up. Paranoia melts and is redistributed, transformed into small graftings of screaming creatures. Girl dolls, logs. Everything gets mixed together. The heat pushes moisture out of the skin, surfaces glow teasingly. The husband finds himself on the African continent, in a city of solidified lava. White jeeps cross paths with starving dogs, gospel music flows out of Pentecostal churches, overcrowded hopsitals have locked their gates. The suicidal husband drives around with a sweet slut. They are going to climb Nyiaragongo. I expand the image, a widening circle, it whirls, a treasonous ring dance around that which burns. More and more sluts. A mass of eggs, explosions, a burning sky, a spray of shrapnel across our bodies.”

The first section, “Red Mistresses (Retreat),” poises readers to flow “valve after valve” through a paranoid pipeline of lava-like sewage. A montage of excrement. A language of shit. An age of drug-induced decay. The protagonist’s womb is volcano-like. Logs of “girl dolls” burn up on the fire. Her unborn child appears to be violently attached to her like ropes of pahoehoe.

“The Shining played on a television as we fucked. Because Nyiaragongo burned my husband’s body. From beneath the eggshell roars a burning river. My body is not a knife. Or an alternative. My only choice is exorcism. Anything to avoid melting.”

The notion of the child in “The Night’s Belly” appears to be something more akin to Cronenberg’s “psychoplasmic” children of The Brood (1979) or the supernatural occurences in The Exorcist (1973). Efrik’s body of text gradually begins to resemble the hauntings of Kubrick’s own labyrinthine mise-en-scene. The protagonist’s swollen belly ambushes the reader with appropriations of Kubrick’s occult hotel, which include the trance-like repeat of the Grady twins as well as moments of repetition reminiscent of Jack’s typewriter antics. (“i am no one / it’s not a secret anymore / not a chore anymore / not a secret chore anymore / i do not know who i am anymore”) Author Robert Luckhurst has noted the ways in which Kubrick embedded violent pieces of his own troubled self (i.e. his maddening need for multiple takes, the inclusion of his personal typewriter, his habit of tossing a baseball against a wall) into The Shining. Efrik’s protagonist appears to be wrestling with a similar blurring of identity:

“I am a creature’s surrogate mother. I fertilize it with female twin filled hallways. Fertilization, an infinite hotel. And everything is there. The child’s red mothers. The child’s father. I am also there. There is also a nursery. I hide myself beneath a blanket of solidified lava. I hide there among animal limbs and sawn off pipes of bone. My twin filled stomach valves (a goosefoot valve, a pizzeria valve, a vulgar valve), perfected overnight. Cavities enable my ascent. Mistresses! Come and save me, pull me out of myself!”

odd-nerdrum
(continue reading…)

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A Lemonade-Genius, Tart and Incisive, Sold by the Sip: On _A Mammal’s Notebook: The Writings of Erik Satie”

by on Jul.21, 2014

Spells

When I wish:

…I live in France

in the days of Charlemagne.”

thanks to a friend of mine who is a Wizard…

(Return to the Past)

 

satie

We haven’t yet made it to the Dog Days of summer and yet it is time for something completely different—A Mammal’s Notebook: The Writings of Erik Satie, edited and introduced by Ornella Volta, translated by Antony Melville, and just out from Atlas Press, London. This volume, like Satie, aka ‘The Velvet Gentleman”,  is good-looking, hilarious, charming, insane, snippy and visionary, all at once.

Volta, a Satie scholar who established and oversees his archives and runs the Satie museum in Paris, notes “Satie still seems, even now, contemporary, because the problems he brought to light remain unresolved.” In the wake of Wagnerism, those problems included how to wave away self-seriousness and bring lightness, exuberance, play, modern flexibility into modern musical composition. Satie’s innovations were nimble, direct, cussed, literally childish, and endlessly inventive, and feel, to this day, fresh, completely free and freeing. First, he writes very short pieces, often quoting and satirizing both friends and enemies (Satie is truly contemporary in the quantities (and quality) of his frenemies). Next, he titles them after decidedly un-serious, anti-musical and/or formally paradoxical topics—Desiccated Embryos, Bothersome Globs, Sports & Recreations, Three Compositions in the Shape of a Pear, etc. Next, he annotates his extremely brief pieces with hilarious indications to the performer—“As if you were congested”; “Almost invisible”; “Be an hour late”; “Corpulentus” ; “On yellowing velvet”; etc.  The brief, stanzaic texts which accompany many of the compositions have the barmy precision (Volta’s word) of Crevel (and/or Paul Legault’s playlets) (or Mallarme’s translations of English nursery rhymes) (or Stein) and are plenteous and delightful. In a piece for children, which reads half-Tzara, half-Richard-Scarry–

3. Steps of a Grand Staircase

It is a grand staircase, very grand.

It has more than a thousand steps, all made of ivory.

It is very beautiful.

No one dares to use it for fear of spoiling it.

The King himself has never used it.

To leave his room, he jumps out of the window.

And often he says:

“I love this staircase so much I am going to have it stuffed.”

The King is right, isn’t he?

 

In addition to these charming texts to accompany compositions and the vitally bonkers performance indications, A Mammal’s Notebook includes hilarious lectures, complete with loopy loaded ellipses which anticipate Jack Smith (note: all ellipses in the below passage Satie’s):

 

A critic’s brain is a store,–

— a department store

…..

You can find anything there: –orthopaedics,– sciences, –bed-linen, –arts, –travelling rugs—a wide range of furniture,–French and foreign writing paper;–

–smokers’ wares,

gloves—umbrellas—

–woolens,– hats, –sports, —walking-sticks, –optician’s,– perfumery,–etcetera

The critic knows everything, —….. sees everything, –hears everything,— touches everything,…

moves everything around….., eats anything….., confuses everything…….– & thinks nothing of it…..

What a man!!…..

Tell the world!!!……

All our wares are guaranteed!!!……

In hot weather,–

All the merchandise is kept inside!!!

Inside the critic!!!!!

This is the kind of delightful, crazy jousting we find throughout Satie’s compositions, verbal, textual, or otherwise. The maddening elliptical pacing is like a tonal, Loony-Tunes powder keg being tossed back and forth between speaker and audience. One imagines ‘the critic’ fuming alongside on tiny shoes like Yosemite Sam, about to provide the flame that explodes the proceedings.

In addition to the lectures, notes, annotations and libretti, (texts not to be read aloud, texts to be danced, sung, etc), and texts written for publications, the most intriguing ‘specimens’ in this mammal’s notebook are two further uncategorizable texts. First, the “Catalogue of Erik Satie’s Musical and Literary Works with Comments by the Same Gentleman”, which I take to be a collaboration between Volta and Satie: a timeline of the composer’s life work with notes retrieved from Satie’s manuscripts and inserted alongside the dated texts, such as, regarding Medusa’s Snare:

                This is a play of pure fantasy… with no reality.

                A joke.

                Do not see it as anything else.

                The role of Baron Medusa is a sort of portrait… Even a portrait of me… a full-length portrait of me.

This catalogue is a dotty and engrossing piece of collaboration between the scholar and her subject and I’m delighted by the little spark of occult flame that jumps across, as Satie appears to provide the scholarly annotation for his own life. Satie is also quoted as writing, of himself, “His music is senseless & makes people laugh & shrug their shoulders.”

But the final, mysterious wealth of this book is the nearly indescribable “Private Advertisements”—selections from a collection of 4,000 cards which were found in Satie’s apartment after his death. These close set, printed or hand written cards read like cryptic advertisements, musical scores or even architectural renderings. These are impossible to truly quote here—“Forge-on-the-Bubble/The White Pine Inn:/Manor & Farm/ (1253)/Entirely in cast iron/Gift of the Devil to his Godson”—but suggest an endlessly ingenious mind following a path of inspiration truly beyond what contemporary genres or media could accommodate—are these scores? cards for a player piano? computer programs? advertisements? parts of a Darger-like novel? The novel of the 19th century dying into the 20th?  I think also of the endlessly inventive work of Ray Johnson, whose inexhaustibly playful correspondence art has just now been reissued by Siglio in gorgeous large editions, & might be read alongside Satie’s.

Volta’s frontmatter and annotations record the life of an artist always slipping in and out of synch with his contemporaries, prefiguring and racing ahead of them, claimed as this one’s forbear, that one’s follower, leader to this group, émigré from that. I almost picture a figure like Ray Johnson, or like Chaplin’s tramp in Modern Times who enters the clockwork wrongways and so is shot out by the machinery into force-driven, yet farcical, free, plastic, elastic space. Perhaps this paradox describes the way Satie participates in and even generates the musical language of his time while also seeming thrown completely wide of it, making work for future aliens and holothurians to play back with delight.

 

 

 

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From the Motherland: The Apotheosis of Michael Jackson and Its Consequences

by on Mar.28, 2014

“I remember when your head caught flame.”
– Lorde

I passed through my motherland (Missouri) today, en route to Tennessee after abandoning my (not so) stronghold in the mountains of Colorado. For those following my seemingly willful courtship with disaster, I returned home after several weeks of being displaced from a thousand-year flood only to lose my job a month later. Since like most humans on this planet I still subsist on money and electricity to support a mediated/subjugated lifestyle, I had to hustle to find a solution and found one in my mother’s motherland.

But what I really want to talk about is Michael Jackson.

I remember seeing the video for “Smooth Criminal” for the first time as an 11 year old in 1988 and realizing in that moment what an artistic mistake it was for Michael Jackson to select “Bad” as the titular framework and audiovisual initiation to his follow up to Thriller (1982). Bad (1987) was the end of the legendary MJ / Quincy Jones collaboration that began with Off the Wall (1979), and the beginning of the end for Michael’s out-of-this-world command as an image artist. By 1987 the effortless impossibility of his ’83 Motown performance had devolved into something more alien than otherworldly, a mutation distilled to perfection by Corey Feldman in real life and in the entirety of Dream a Little Dream (1989), but especially this scene:

My feeling is that Michael was fucked up on pain and painkillers by that point, the real beginning of the end occurring at approximately 6:15pm on January 27, 1984 during the ill-fated filming of a Pepsi commercial in support of The Jacksons’ Victory tour, when Michael achieved apotheosis by going up in flames. Watch how alone he is here, his supposed brothers oblivious to the plight of a genuine god burning at the stake/stage. There is no coming back from a trauma like this. If you’ve been wondering what kind of triggering event would lead someone to eventually seek out a straight up oblivion drug like propofol as opposed to say the narcotic depths of heroin, This Is It:

(continue reading…)

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Interview with Frederick Farryl Goodwin

by on Mar.27, 2014

9

Tales from the Crypt: Year of the Horse—Codex Prime

Frederick Farryl Goodwin, author of Virgil’s Cow (2009) and Galactic Milk (2013) Miami University Press, interviewed by Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle

Is Frederick Farryl Goodwin the evental poet of this century?

Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics: I conducted this exchange with Frederick during the first three months of 2014. We still have never met, or spoken on the phone, we employed email. At jump I knew 0 about him personally. But his extra-orbital poems loosed a wanton force majeure sufficient to haul me to him pronto. Banished, vanished, well-hid F. shows lo to no web profile, a magisterial cloaking maneuver itself in our exposé ion eon. How truly create, if not ex nihilo? Our quandary isn’t how Something rose from Nothing, but where did Nothing come from? I give you his debut interview.

As standard Q and A soon quailed confronting such a world-reversing coup, I plied him instead with provocations, sub rosa “constellations,” subliminal suggestiones. Fred mailed back fifteen thousand (15, ooo) words . . . almost overnight. So, to immure and lure you in, please allow me to introduce twin flanking notes Frederick sent before, then immediately after decomposing the bodies of his corpus.

The first is his response to my curt and common question: “Does your email address [which here I must withhold] refer to Eve Futur, by Villiers de L’Isle-Adam?”

And the following, he (Croniomantal, poet beyond the tomb) wirelessed just one “morning after” inking his extended testament below.

Frederick Farryl Goodwin (JAN 17/14)

No, not consciously at least + I’ve not read Villers de L’isle Adam. But who knows the causality of things + the source of words in our lives? Having said that, there’s an anecdotal parallel between Master Janus who, while preparing to initiate Axël into the occult mysteries, asks his pupil whether he is ready to accept “light, hope and life.” Axël replies “no” which I can relate to—& recalls an experience I had w/ Salvador Roquet who once asked me the same question…..whether I was ready to accept “light, hope and life”….. asking me to step outside the room we were in and pass through a door where the light from a dazzling day was streaming in— I couldn’t. I told him so and somaticized my response immediately consumed w/the most excruciating pain, my feet feeling as if someone had basted them with napalm and set them ablaze. It followed two very punishing days with him in Western Mass. where, on the third day, he pulled a woman and myself from a group of thirty or so to do what he termed psychosynthesis in front of everyone for 10 hours — 30 participants + 10 or so therapist/healers of assorted stripes who assisted him— watching and collectively wailing and weeping as a nightmare unfolded. That day, despite myself, but perhaps through me, I was, as Roquet’s principal assistant said to me afterwards, “the spirital center for three days.” Perhaps, as Merwin says, all poetry begins as grief expressed through the wailing wall of the unbroken vowel— the Lament Configuration— until interrupted by the onslaught and tourniquet of the consonants to break the spell— the wife of a gracile/robust australopithecine man is killed by a saber-toothed cat or something like that. The demon was already out of the puzzle box of the collective unconscious for me before Roquet— he helped design and concoct the confection that would contain the demon I saw for the first time with my own eyes when I was 26—while watching a film the screen burned away in front of me from the center out and the red-face and horns came to greet me being of an age when it’s time to use harness the rope and traction of that energy to vatically climb the verticulum towards the other way while accessing the one realm which knowledge of the other allows. I like to think I played tiddlywinks with Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz in a dream as a boy while listening to my dear friend Grace Lake— Jewish visionary seraphim and feminist socialist revolutionary— tell me over and over again in that heartbreakingly, almost unbearably beautiful voice that was hers alone how she stared at the sun as a child until her vision was permanently impaired, transformed. Derek Dowson, illegitimate great-grandson of an Earl + nephew of the Decadent poet Ernst Dowson— later picked up where Roquet left off, taught me everything I know, saved my life and gave me both future + eon while my seasonal human nature…..drifter[ed] bye.

Thank you for writing, posing the question as provocateur, and for the great kindness of your interest: the short answer is nope.
F
(continue reading…)

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"Uncontrollable Leakage" v. "Hygienic Barrier"

by on Aug.13, 2013

In recent essays posted at Harriet, the Poetry Foundation blog, Johannes discusses art and violence in ways that interest me for a variety of reasons as a writer who was once able to write fiction and poetry; also in my present incarnation as “crime writer”; also in my capacity as publisher of at least a few violent books — notably Johannes’s and Joyelle’s work, of course, along with Gordon Massman and Kim Gek Lin Short (to say nothing of Tarpaulin Sky magazine’s past contributors and editors, Rebecca Brown, Blake Butler, Selah Saterstrom, et al). I have a lot of things to say in response to Johannes’s essays, but am a terribly slow writer: with any luck, I’ll add a “part two” to this post in the next week or so.

Johannes notes that many poets are “hesitant about involving art and violence. If they do engage with violence, poets tend to seek to create a distance from the violence, erecting a hygienic barrier between the art and the violence.” This “hygienic barrier” may be found not only in work that seeks to avoid violence, but in the critique of work that employs violence. This “critical distance” appears “the hallmark of most academic writing about poetry for quite some time (and especially the kind of “experimental poetry” favored in the academy).” Johannes also discusses, by contrast, the unfiltered, unprocessed, experience of the “murderous impact” of violent art — i.e, the experience of violence before “learning to appreciate the artwork, before gaining that distance from the music that is the most intense.” This, writes Johannes, is the “best example of how art affects me.”[1]

I am reminded of a chapter in Selah Saterstrom’s novel, The Meat & Spirit Plan: “And Suddenly I Thought: This Is What It Means to Make a Movie in Sweden,” in which a young woman from the U.S. (the South), who is narrator and protagonist, receives a grant for promising ex-reform-school girls, allowing her to study abroad in Scotland. After shacking up with a local ex-con, she spends much of her free time making a study of meat — standing before the butcher at the open-air market, or sitting in the museum before Rembrandt’s “Slaughtered Ox,” when she is not incapacitated from inexplicable and excruciating illness. (continue reading…)

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Sea Change: Sound as Force in e.e. cummings, Plath, and Tim Jones-Yelvington

by on Jul.31, 2013

Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning

 

1. Tim Jones-Yelvington and I built a battle-wagon made of sound. It is made of both of our words, Tim’s lungs, trachea, and soft -palate, Tim’s sense of sound as glamorous decor and still more glamorous weaponry, my interest in the vulnerability of Irish epic heroes, my rage and grief for Bradley Manning, my rage at the US governments many crimes and alibis. This is what it sounds like.

tim jones-yelvington

“TimTin” (Tim Jones-Yelvington)

 

2. This amazing invention made me think more about what Sound is, the force of Sound, what force it may be said to have. I am interested in the mess and muck of sound, its glamorous necro-force, the way it forces itself like the sea that changes through the aperture of the human body and into the soft tissue of the human brain. I see this muck and murk as a not-quite rational fabric, propagating its waves through us, forcing upon us its own occult connections , ie assonance, rhythm, rhyme, hijacking the brain from its finer work of manufacturing such high-grade Cartesian products as self-hood and thought and forcing it instead to go ‘ding-dong’. Sound is violence. It causes its own seachange.

3. Outside realism, rationality, exposition, or depiction, there is something that cannot be named or paraphrased, there is something else. We might provisonally call it Death, or, the Real. Black, flexing, occult, fatal, seductive, violent, forceful, demonic, oozy, performed, as in Shakespeare’s plays, not in soliloquoy but multivocally before dream corpses and trick caskets, capable of forcing change, forcing the future to arrive: this is what sound is to me, and this is why I make my body and my writing a medium for sound. We don’t need to look back to Shakespeare to find these occult wriggling and bizzarre moments, moments which at once calls the nerves and brainstem to attention and demote the higher seats of logical thought:

ee cummings:

Jimmie’s got a goil

goil

goil

Jimmys got a goil and

she coitinly can shimmie

 

when you see her shake

shake

shake

when you see her shake a

shimmie how you wish that you was jimmie.

I first (and last) read this poem about 25 years ago in middle school and it has stayed with me, intact, for its bumpy burlesque music, its twisting motion. Jimmy’s goil’s shimmy invades the whole poem, making the poem perform dangerous whip curves  and moebius strips and turning continuously perverting the sounds of language—goil to a gutteral ‘gurl’  to by gulpled in the lusty gutter, that ‘i’ gets its own syllable, like foil, a glittery luster. The poem is a gesture and a garment with no body underneath. But it leads us to unclean thoughts—the poet’s thoughts: thoughts of leaving the self, for I to be an other—and finally to fatal thoughts:

 

talk about your Sal-

Sal-

Sal-

talk about your Salo

-mes but gimmie Jimmie’s gal.

Here, although Jimmie’s gal is preferred at the end and Salome supposedly rejected, Salome can’t be divorced from the goil; once she enters the poem, her steps are matched to the goil’s; Sal Sal Sal. Salome stands for sin, for murder and betrayal, as does, after all, Jimmie’s gal.  The twirling shape of the poem now resembles Salome’s veils, thrown off to show the allure, not of a conventional human body, but of fatality and crime underneath. But there is no Salome without her veils; it is her veils, and not her body, that hold allure; the shimmie is the goil; sound in this poem is the shimmie’s fatal (and only!) body.

This poem with its gladsome gal-salome, its wriggly salamandinre form and its blackly occult engine recalls another infamously catchy poem, Plath’s Lady Lazarus. In this poem, the body is a garment—‘the clothes the grave cave ate’—and that garment is made of sound. This Ariel-minded poet first recounts one of her many deaths, one of her many sea-changes, in the language of Ariel’s song: “I rocked shut/As a seashell./ They had to call and call/And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls”. After this alarming claim the poem takes on its ding-dong Seussy swiftness:

Dying/ Is an art,/ like everything else. I do it exceptionally well. I do it so it feels like hell. I do it so it feels real./I guess you could say I’ve a call./It’s easy enough to do it in a cell. It’s easy enough to do it and stay put./It’s the theatrical/Comeback in broad day/To the same place, the same face/ the same brute/Amused shout: ‘A miracle!’ That knocks me out. –

These brief lines move like a rickety Coney- Island rollercoaster chuffing us off to the Sublime. As with cumming’s poem, assonantal distortions provide the glamorous vertiginousness. We begin with ‘el’ but that ‘el’ becomes sprained: “else”, “well”, “hell”, “real”.  The long ‘e’ of ‘real’ takes longer in the mouth and represents that little hop before the rhymes start blinkering out, returning, going hectic and haywire: real to ‘call’, call to ‘cell’, ‘cell to ‘theatrical’, and, after a long wait, ‘A miracle’. The ‘c’s (the sea’s!) soften and harden, close and open around a vowel that changes shape like a tiny breathing mouth. There is something uncanny in that undead, mewling vowel and its little valve of opening ‘c’ and ‘l’ sounds. That something is the punctum, the wound, the magnet, the death drive, the ‘knockout in broad daylight’ which we all should  love and ‘beware’. The poem’s speedy virtuosic tercets are its shimmie, its brief body, its fatal veils with nothing as safe as a body underneath: “ I am your opus/I am your valuable/the pure gold baby/that melts to a shriek.”

 

4. Sound’s effects, sound’s stupid and contagious ‘ding dongs’ are not poetry’s decorations, a matter of dry tradition or technique, or, god forbid, something that must ‘follow’ sense or ‘serve’ the poem in any way. Sound is ART, breaking through the conventions of the poem as commodity, as polite and sanitized exchange, revolting the poem, shimmiing, it, sea changing it, making it spill its black unparaphrasable guts and rework the poem as a black site where the individual-serving-size self with its rationalized self-image doesn’t actually want to go. Sound may seem to give a poem unity but it is also the place where something non-rational, even inhuman takes over the poem, a compulsion, a forcefulness as ready to shake it to death or flip it into the afterlife as stroke it to sleep with dulcet, sinister tones. It would be a mistake, however, to associate Sound’s irrationality, it’s nonsense power with the a-political. For Sound’s irrational force,  its appetites, its drives, its greed, its bloodthirstiness, its pratfalls and its violence are politics itself. In an introduction to his 1926 volume  is 5, e.e. cummings wrote,

At least my theory of technique, if I have one, is very far from original; nor is it complicated.  I can express it in fifteen words, by quoting The Eternal Question And Immortal Answer of burlesk, viz.”Would you hit a woman with a child? – No, I’d hit her with a brick.” Like the burlesk comedian, I am abnormally fond of that precision which creates movement.

Sound’s burlesk action, its precision, is violent; it is violence; it moves through real bodies, touching them all. It calls and responds. It carries with it all the hilarious energy of hitting a pregnant woman, hitting a woman with a brick. Rather than removing us from the exquisite composition of the Shakesperean play, from the political anhendonia of this anthropocenic, teratogenic moment, Sound is the occult black force running through, over, and across all the seemingly sane bodies of the stage or state. Sound amplifies what nice society tries to hide. Sound is hilarity, it is desire, it is revulsion, it is pettiness, lust, vanity, even ill-conceived expenditure and generosity; Sound is Violence’s motion, its machine and its garment, its contact and its diminition, its ‘reply all’ and ‘delete all’, as it saturates the troposphere with its fatal force, its rich, strange toxins, its unbearable climates, its sea-change.

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War Spasm Gristle Day: Joyelle McSweeney on Aase Berg, Translation and Cúchulainn

by on Jul.18, 2013

[I forgot to link to Joyelle’s essay on “War Spasm” now up on The Volta:]

1)I write in contaminated, rampant, ill, struggling, fetid and fatal forms because that is where I exist and what life is. I exist as a spasm, a plasmodial wiggle, and I live in an impossible state—the and/or. The and/or is not quite two things, it is not quite one, it is more than two and less than one, at once. It’s devastating, debilitating, and a little bit great. The and/or is a paradoxical and volatile and impossible material. You can make it in a pressure cooker, set it to cook while you’re on shift, a hot dinner for the kids, a home-cooked meal. Or cook it up in an industrial plant in West, Texas. You can collapse a stacked-up garment factory in Dhaka, or just work there, or just buy clothes, munch labor like a weevil or spirochete. It will grow within you, without you. It will wrap its tough fungal strands around your spinal chord where it cannot be removed. Column, columbia, dove of peace, fatal phalanx. The and/or pours irrationality down into the would-be technically assessable, economically appraisable pre-fab units of literary form and blows them apart. To high heaven. To kingdom come. Or to the rehab ward, where your life will be saved thanks to battlefield medicine. Thanks to a decade of war, now in syndication. Thanks to Bellona’s many corporate syndicates. The and/or is really an ‘or.’ The and/or is an ‘or’ which means ‘and.’ It is an or which will not let you alone. An occult ampersand. A bitch to watch out for. Trouble every day.

For more go here.

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Beth Towle on Abe Smith, Maurice Manning and "Affected Folk"

by on Jul.16, 2013

At The Actuary, Beth Towle begins to consider the role of “folk” in Abe Smit and Maurice Manning’s work:

Abe Smith’s rant-like paeans to rural life, Maurice Manning’s twangy, plain-spoken sonnets, the Punch Brother’s banjo-heavy love songs: these are all forms of affected folk. Affected folk is interesting not because it plays WITH our traditional knowledge or ideas of what folk “is.” Rather, it plays WITHIN those expectations. Folk art is meant to be democratic, is meant to be true to its name. Folk wants to pretend that it is for the people. Affected folk understands that folk is not about democracy but about the allure of democracy and the inevitable unfulfilling of such a claim that a certain register of art can ever hope to be “for” anyone, let alone lots of anyones. Affected folk is always conscious of what it’s doing but not because it is trying to play towards a specific crowd. Instead, affected folk simultaneously loves and questions its forms and tools. And the readers and listeners of affected folk cannot simply sit back and enjoy the art they consume; they are instead complicit in also loving and understanding what it is that is appealing or unsettling, beautiful or painful about folk art.

I think about Greil Marcus’s brilliant book Invisible Republic (I think it was retitled Weird Old America in later editions) where he gets at the gothic and curious ways that a certain “weird old America” gets configured and reconfigured occultly (the last time it appears according to Marcus is in Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes but Greil probably never read Abe Smith).

Abe Smith is a brilliant writer, whose work is really unique, coming out of folk music and a rural working class background, by way of slam poetry, he has developed this totally unorthodox, almost Celan-ish style of word play (all the while retaining that “folksiness” that Beth talks about). It seems people have had a hard time considering his work critically, even as he’s been an obvious influence on a number of writers.

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Book of the Year: James Pate's The Fassbinder Diaries

by on Jun.24, 2013

james
James Pate’s The Fassbinder Diaries is definiely one of the best books of this ludicrous year. I have waited for this book to be published for many years, as long as I’ve been reading James’s writing. It’s not strange that this book doesn’t read like a first book – that it reads like someone who has definitely found his stride, is working in a beligerent zone – because James has been writing amazing stuff for years. In the perfect literary world, he would have had several books published by now.
silly pastel boy
I’ve been reading his work for many years. I met him when we went to grad school together in Iowa. He’d come from Memphis and I had come from NYC (Queens!), we both loved blues music and Wu-Tang Clan, Basquiat, b-movies and Godard (In fact used to be so obsessed with old-school blues music that I wanted to move to Memphis). James was already incredibly well-read and he introduced me to a lot of work I still love: for example Jack Smith, early Don Delillo (Running Dog, Great Jones Street, I hate the later stuff) and Twin Peaks. So we became friends. We watched movies until we fell asleep. I remember/don’t remember one particular night when we Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising stoned and exhausted.

I love the way James talks about art: a pornographic experience. “My hands started shaking,” I remember James saying about the first time he read Bataille’s Blue of Noon. But he has a similar attitude towards less obviously pornographic books, for example some mystic from the middle ages or Foucault.

When asked what his religion was, James would always answer “fallen catholic,” and “fallen” here is very instructive: fallen as in the tenor of the allegory is lost, we have been plunged into the saturative textures and gleaming fabrics of a ritual whose God is dead.
pierrot
Cannibalism, pornography, b-movies and, most importantly, the physicality, the materiality of the artistic experience are key ingredients of James’s work.You can already see it in “12 Resolutions to a New Year,” a story he wrote while we were in grad school, and which I later published in Action, Yes. It’s one of my all-time favorite stories. The series of poems or piece of film (many of James’s poems/stories have the feeling of being a part of a film where we only get a glimpse of the overall film, or the feeling of two films roughly sutured) are held together by the figure of Fatty Arbuckle who seemingly murders the two lovers who come to see his movies in some dank Memphis theater.
fatty
Fatty Arbuckle is the perfect figure for James’s work because of his obesity (James’s characters love to eat or are starving or are desperately trying to stuff themselves, conditions that stand in for his vision of art), his sordid biography (accused of having killed a prostitute by giving her an illegal abortion) and because of the obscurity of his later career:

There are twelve stories about Fatty Arbuckle, and this might be the final one. We know how he spent (wasted, drank through, destroyed loved ones, burnt beds, to be seen in nickelodeons nodding off on junk and gorging pig-like on duck and busting heads and breaking hearts) his final decades. Because of the underground nature of his later years (basements and brothels and dank laboratories and warehouses and seashells) we can only hope certain makeshift records (napkin poems, restroom wall sketches, carvings in trunks, nails through voodoo dolls, digits sent to ex-lovers, whispers floating back off ocean breeze, legends from El Salvador, French myths, personally performed porno in blurred film stock, corpses in floor boards, postcards to cousins, a jam session on tape with Fatty on tenor) appear from the rivers of far drums. We wish ourselves luck.

Particularly because of this obscurity. Unlike the common “accessibility” debates, the obscurity doesn’t interfere with the communication of a meaning, but enhances the affectivity of the textures, the art. In this James’s writing is a close relative of Roberto Bolano’s stories. And like Roberto Bolano’s stories, James’s writings are on one level always about art. And the art is simultaneously physically overwhelming and obscure/apocryphal. In fact the two do no contradict each other but enhance each other: the obscurity is part of the materially overwhelming aspect of art. The Fassbinder Diaries are full of this. In fact the entire book starts out with:

The first scenes are silent. The footage is grainy, as if the world being shown has gone through a storm of broken glass shards.

And ends:

The entire factory or bedroom or meadow dripping light from its lips. Or maybe delicate drops of acid have eaten the scene. There are figures on the ground, silently squirming. But it’s impossible to tell if they are silent because they are silent or if they are silent because this is a silent film. We are watching them in the dark. It is a black-and-white dark. Outside, it is a black-and-white dark.

There’s the sense the materiality of the movies – the graininess, the wear and tear – is part of the viewing experience, enhances and intensifies the experience, and that the physical setting of the film might be part of the movie.
fassbinder
And there’s this great love of the apocryphal, the rumored, unofficial artworks that create a kind of “invisible republic” (to quote Greil Marcus, another lover of this occult space) that feels both incredibly intimate and absolutely convulsed with politics. For example, Franz and Mieze from Fassbinder’s “Alexanderplatz, Berlin” appear as characters in James’s book, but they not only act out scenes not in Fassbinder’s original (or the novel on which his piece is based), but they also watch a whole host of strange films:

Franz said bite me here, and Mieze bit him there, and Mieze said bite me here, and Franz bit her there. The curtains were closed. They were the color of gray snakeskin. Outside, a war developed in Berlin. A gun fired at Dillinger on a movie screen in Chicago. They were someplace else. The seconds were already ahead of them, waiting with their guns pulled. An alley with no escape.

More than any other writer I know, James revels in the apocryphal, the sense of the fan fiction as a perversion of the official account of things. (continue reading…)

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