Plus de Panique! : On Drag as The Real, Fierce Potential Next in TJY, Paris is Burning, & Johannes Goransson

by on Nov.19, 2012

The Lit Diva Extraordinaire!

un: the threat of art/ la menace d’art

“[Threat’s] nature is open ended. It is not just that it is not; it is not in a way that is never over. We can never be done with it. […]There is always the nagging potential of the next after it being even worse and of a still worse next again after that. The uncertainty of the potential next is never consumed in any given event.”

This quote, from Brian Massumi’s “The Future Birth of the Affective Fact”, is embedded in an argument about the regime of ‘pre-emption’ that took hold of American governance during the Bush Administration; the inextinguishibility of threat prompts the perpetual generation of ‘preemption’, both noxious ‘homeland security’ practices and aggression abroad.  In Massumi’s argument, threat is distinctive for its unkillability, its anachronistic perma-futurity which is nevertheless linked to a ‘pre’.

However, re-reading Massumi’s article this morning, I was struck by how well it also described Art’s threat. Art is a threat, not a tool or fact; it’s a surplus; it’s hypothetical; it is figurative and literal threat;  it comes from the future to make things happen in the present; and it is ‘not’ in a way that is never over, because it is not alive. It does not marry, yet it proliferates. It is contagious. It generates nextness. It is the body of nextness. There is a ‘next’ and a ‘still worse next again after that’. No event can consume the uncertainty.

This is my favorite thing about Art! And Art’s threat is most clearly embodied in the practice of Drag. As Massumi notes later elsewhere in his essay, “The value of the alert is measured by its performance.” “Threat has no actual referent.” Instead, “It has a performantive threat value.”

In other words, threat pour la threat.

Or, as a footnote quotes a French headline, Plus de panique!


deux: the fierce and the real/le féroce et le réel

The performative nature of threat, its Edelmanian participation in a lineage-threatening alternate temporality, begins to make it, for me, synonymous with drag performance. There are many ways to contextualize and discuss drag, but two words which always come to mind are “fierceness” and “realness” . Fierceness already communicates Drag’s explicit threat; it is a weaponized aestheticism, an over-emphasis, an overtness that seizes attention and disrupts convention. Realness is Drag’s implicit threat; for realness also seizes attention and disrupts convention by revealing an array of would be ‘naturalized’ identities as assumed, performed, exterior rather than interior.

As Lee Edelman as made clear, there is a temporal (or rather anachronistic) dynamic to this performance; queerness disrupts patrilineal structures, which  both disrupts our sense of a  linear past with its biblical ‘begatness’ as well as the patriarchal future with its heterosexually reproducing sons and daughters. As such it undoes the temporal assumptions on which nationhood is also secured. This terroristic threat is embodied by the transvestite ‘terrorist’ in Patrick McCabe’s Breakfast on Pluto; once this glamorous victim of a nightclub bombing is discovered to be a transvestite, she becomes synonymous with the terrorist who planted the bomb.  More particularly, Drag disrupts conventional notions of ‘family time’. In Paris Is Burning, waves of ‘legendary children’ issue from dynastic houses;  yet the ‘houses’ find their ‘patrimony’(?) not in patriarchs but in the names of fashion brands and other fiercely glamorous sounding nominations, sometimes referencing the ‘house mother’: “House of LeBieja”,  ‘House of Ninja’, etc.  Moreover the nomination ‘Legendary Children’ itself embodies a pre-emptive threat: the children are already ‘legendary’—in the future we will look back on them as being legendary, but they also impossibly project their legendary status anachronistically in the present, through their performance; this is their threat, and their permanence.


trois: Legendary Children/les enfants légendaires


When we look at contemporary examples of the drag/threat aesthetic, we see this indexing of fierceness and realness to both childhood and threat.  Tim Jones-Yelvington’s visual aesthetic (as of present writing) enacts a fierce, glam futurity, with his weaponized cheekbones, bomb-blast hairdo, and laservision eyes.  I had the good fortune to be present at  Tim’s recent birthday festivities; in this performance TJY, Lit Diva Extraordinaire, takes control of her ‘genesis’, writing it over with festive tabloid hyperconfessionalism; narrativity’s lasciviousness detonates in the person of the Diva herself into a kind of pop-explosion which would blow apart the body of a suicide bomber, were she made of conventional ballistics. However, the impossible properties of the Diva’s threat body means that it is not ‘extinguished’ in its Art explosion; as a threat-body, it merely reconfigures itself.

The uncertainty of the potential next is never consumed in any given event.

Thinking about the Lit Diva Extraordinaire and her birthday bash also made me think of a recurring motif in Johannes Goransson’s work: “The Genius Child Orchestra”. (continue reading…)

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Notes from Korea: Jeongrye Choi

by on Nov.19, 2012

A while back I was in South Korea for a week as part of an international literary festival. It was a surprisingly intense experience for me, and as a result of this intensity – the art, the poets, the food, the Korean beer, the smell and, not the least, the jet-lag that kept me up all night – I was kind of undone and wrote notes for what I realize now is a book, blending such genres as Strindberg’s hilarious Occult Diary, 19th century travelogues, poetry, literary criticism and translation studies.

Anyway, I thought I would post some of the notes from the book as I sort through them. Many of them are embarrassing and personal, but I thought I could at least post perhaps the more constructive, less insane intries, such as this analysis of Jeongrye Choi’s book “The Smell” (Which can be found in Instances, trans by Brenda Hillman and Wayne De Fremery, Parlor Press 2010).

(continue reading…)

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On Loaded Guns 2: Emily Dickinson, Black Civil War soldiers, and Shane McCrae's Blood

by on Nov.16, 2012

I often make a plea here and in my classes for ‘occult reading practices’—reading practices that search out occult influences moving among texts, influences that work anachronistically or telepathically or across a medium of diabolical ‘sympathy’, influence itself as a kind of ectoplasm, an uncanny, distorting, magnetic and often duplicitous material. While I was reading Shane McCrae’s Blood (due out this Spring from Noemi Press; a sequence from this book is also available as “In Canaan”, a chapbook from Rescue Press), a second poem kept arising like a haint in my mind, so that I felt that Shane’s book and this phantom poem were tugging each other into spectral presence like linked emanations. That second poem was Emily Dickinson’s 754,  “My Life had stood–a Loaded gun–”. Dickinson’s poem lit up McCrae’s work with klieg lights, and McCrae’s poems reanimated Dickinson’s poem with an anachronistic power which, ironically, flooded the earlier poem both with the historical context of its composition during the Civil War and with the violence which preceded and followed it, all the violence of mankind spasming along axes of ferocious power.

“The history of blackness is testament to the fact that objects can and do resist,” writes Fred Moten in the introduction to his world-splitting work, In the Break.

Blackness, the extended movement of a specific upheaval, on ongoing irruption that anarranges every line—is a strain that pressures the assumption of the equivalence of personhood and subjectivity. While subjectivity is defined by the subject’s possession of itself and its objects, it is troubled by a dispossessive force objects exert such that the subject seems to be possessed—infused, deformed—by the object it possesses. […..] [Saidiya] Hartman shows how narrative always echoes and redoubles the dramatic interenactment of ‘contentment and abjection,’ and she explores the massive discours of the cut, of rememberment, and redress, that we always here in narratives where blackness marks simultaneously both the performance of object and performance of humanity.

As Moten’s introduction continues, he examines the “Aunt Hester” episode from Frederick Douglass’s Autobiography as a place in which the ‘shrieks’ of the slave’s body under torture stand in for the natal scene which would typically anchor an autobiography; under the derangement of history-as-violence, blackness comes into being as “an ongoing irruption that anarranges every line”—as violence converted into long, continuous, confounding, immortal shriek which passes from body to body.

Shane McCrae’s book begins in ambiguity and vertigo; its title ‘Blood’ could refer to the sureties of the bloodline which secures inheritence and generations, but in the context of this book, which records so intensely the repetitive violence by which black voices and bodies are stitched into historical time, recasts that blood as violence’s red body which pushes itself into the space of black bodies.  The book carries the dedication, “For my father, for his parents, for their parents,” a reverse-lineage which claims a multitude of referents working backwards in time, but its parallelism also has a kind of repetitiveness to it, as if the parents and fathers were repeating across time, coming back into present and future time.

In fact this is the thrust of McCrae’s book, providing lyric testimonies to the constitutive violence of periods of history which we must all too ruefully own as “American”—testimonies of rape, murder, kidnapping and imprisonment pre-Civil War, testimonies of Black soldiers made to fight during the Civil War, testimonies of lynchings and separations, and finally an intertemporal elegy that seems to yoke together and bring into immanence figures from no-one-specific-or-else-every time. In all these testimonies, McCrae’s use of short phrase and fragment, repetition of names, and plaintive shifts of address underscore the sameness and repetition of the dispossessions suffered by the speakers, the “strain”, “trouble”, deformation and damage undergone by these people forced to simultaneously undertake “the performance of object and the performance of humanity.”

The result of this unbearable doubleness (which adds up, simultaneously to more than two and less than zero) is that the black body becomes a medium into which violence can spasm and through which it can move. One poem, at the beginning of the book, voices a female slave’s desperation: (continue reading…)

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What happens on Earth stays on Earth

by on Nov.15, 2012

I’ve been working on a multi-volume set of occult writings called BLOOD WORK. The second volume, Revelations & Confessions, is getting a limited, early release via Slim Princess Holdings as of today. You can purchase one of 33 copies at Slim Princess Holdings.

The dominant tropes of this volume are pulled from what Heinrich Agrippa would call the Celestial Realm, a system of control which manifests these days as the alien abduction phenomenon. In other words:

The best technology
if you want

to rule Earth
is blood.

have the best technology.

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"Transfiguration" of Art: Some more thoughts about Bob Dylan and his new album

by on Oct.09, 2012

So I’m listening to Bob Dylan’s new album, Tempest, and that makes me want to add a few comments to my post from yesterday.

First of all, am I the only person who feels like they’ve heard these songs before? Not just because they evoke old-time music but because it might be the actual music he’s used to play his old 1960s hits. Dylan is famous for re-working his old songs in almost unrecognizeable arrangements. (Often people don’t know what song it is until he starts singing, and even then it might be hard to hear.)

He talks about this as well in his autobiography, Chronicles, remembering the moment when he came up with a kind of mathematical (occultly rewriting) formula for generating new song structures for his old songs. So if you haven’t been to a Dylan show, you might get a slow waltz version of “Maggie’s Farm” and a carnival version of “Love Minus Zero” or a swampy blues version of “Positively Fourth Street.”
(continue reading…)

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My Gothic Childhood: Some notes on emigration, immigration and Depeche Mode

by on Oct.05, 2012

Speaking of transfigurations… There’s an interview with Bob Dylan in a recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine where he talks about his experiences of “transfiguration,” how his own famed motorcycle accident in 1966 and the fatal accident of another “Robert Zimmerman,” president of the Hell’s Angels in 1961, and how he has ever since performed much like a dead person.

His description feels strangely perfect for how I have felt my whole adult life. I’ve been thinking about my own deathy ideas about immigration the past few weeks. Or I should say, I’ve been thinking about my ideas about emigration; or I’ve been thinking about my feelings about my emigration/immigration experience.

For a long time I only thought about my immigration experience. I’ve written about it too. How I came to the US and generated all of this extreme violence in the Minneapolis suburb I moved to. This has become a model for me of understanding my own (non-) identity, an embattled figure. But it’s kind of a static model. It’s a harsh but easy model to adopt.

The other day I was reading Banu Kapil’s Nightboat book Schizophrene. It’s a book that feels like a membrane permeated by both India and London, as if both were ghostly spheres, or as if the speaker was a kind of ghost moving through two separate spheres. That’s actually what made me go back into my own experiences of immigration, experiences that aren’t as easy or clean as the embattled immigrant model I’ve written about in the past. To try to invoke my decidedly gothic view of my life with all of its transfigurations.

Moving to the US when I was 13 totally destroyed me. But it wasn’t exactly the violence of my reception that destroyed me. If anything, that violence provided a myth I could use to understand things. What destroyed me most of all was the idea that I had been torn out of the life where I belonged, my life, and that everyone I knew, everything went on without me. That I had died. That I existed in some kind of sphere outside of life.

This feeling lasted for years. I remember listening to Depeche Mode’s 1987 record, Music for the Masses, and feeling an idiotic identification with this song:

On one level, this is a sex song, but now as then, it strikes me as much creepier (continue reading…)

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Asking for a Drag Show, or Notes on Mutation in She-Ra, He-Man, Feng Sun Chen, Clarice Lispector, Pedro Almodóvar, and Other Princesses of Power to Come

by on Sep.07, 2012

As I haven’t read Paul Legault’s book, I’m using the recent discussion only as a springboard.  It’s the concern about the book’s gender politics, specifically, that got me thinking again about my favorite topic of the year—mutation!

In my chapbook Ghostlines, I dress up in drag before mutating into a bird.  This happens in “MARIAS,” a poem about the anonymity of that most common Latin American name.  Anonymity tends to be brutal—the poem mentions the endless murders of Ciudad Juarez, for instance—and I believe its brutality can lead to a kind of contagious sympathy.  Most of us can sympathize with, and have experienced, the plight of the anonymous.  When someone is stripped of their name, they are marginal beyond speech, as if deemed too monstrous and unrecognizable to deserve linguistic agency or representation.  As writers, we react to this plight in different ways.  Some try to speak on behalf of those who are silenced, and critique the conditions that have led to such oppression.  Other writers are compelled to transform themselves as well as the world, becoming something entirely unforeseen in the face of marginalization.

I want to say that these writers become bad copies of the monster.  To borrow Johannes’ term, they speak in something like an ‘ambient translation’ of the other.  Instead of trying to represent the conditions of monstrosity, the writers I’m thinking of proliferate the affects of otherness by making themselves susceptible to all manner of suffering.  This is what Kate Schapira calls the ‘dirty energy’ of the potatoesque, that most soil-ridden and torturous aesthetic.

(continue reading…)

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"The Violent Pollution": Carl-Michael Edenborg's Parapornography

by on Sep.04, 2012

The thing about all this talk about hipsters and/or kitsch is that it’s about art: all poetry can be kitsch (and is according to many people) and all poetry-writers can be viewed as hipsters. I’m not interested in pro- or anti-kitsch poetry, or anti-hipster or pro-hipster poetry. I am interested in dealing with kitsch in a way that doesn’t fall back on these binaries but I also don’t want to move beyond them (to some pleasant world of American Hybrid or whatever), I don’t want to remove this trouble, this anxiety that is part of Art; an anxiety about looking, about uselessness, about excess, about Art’s occult powers and its drug-like “influence” that may ruin our identities as good, stable, progressive subjects with agency. As I noted in my last post I want the forms to rub up against each other, to chafe, to spasm. I want that excessive “foreign body lodged in the overall system of art” to continue to friction in the “system,” to turn it into a horror movie, a B-movie, a “phantom pregnancy,” a spasming necropastoral, a “parapornography.”

One genre that is often compared or made synonymous with kitsch is pornography: Like kitsch it’s too much about affect, too much about effects, too immediate, not properly mediated etc. And most of all, it’s got the “frenzy of the visual.” I think maybe porn can be a way of thinking about kitsch. Or vice versa. Maybe this is why so many people enjoy porn videos from websites like twinkpornvideos.xxx. So they can compare and contrast kitsch with porn.


Carl-Michael Edenborg

Just yesterday I read Carl Michael Edenborg’s “Manifesto of Parapornography.” I should mention that C-M runs the important Swedish press Vertigo, which publishes de Sade and Apollinaire as well as contemporary writers like Nikanor Teratologen and Dennis Cooper and Samuel Delaney. He was also once a member of the same Surrealist Group of Stockholm that Aase Berg used to be part of). In this manifesto Edenborg argues is a move away from the rhetoric of both “pro-pornography” and “anti-pornography,” the two prevalent stances on pornography in our “post-pornography” society.

Edenborg argues against the system underlying both anti- and pro-pornography:

According to both, pornography is devoted to men’s fantasies of omnipotence, of a limitless access to and power over women, to never having to take no for an answer. Over and over again, it reassures men that they are phallic. Men will not accept that the very fact that they require this reassurement shows that they are already castrated, because that would subvert their pleasure. Women, on the other hand, are expected to react in the opposite way to pornography: with loathing and disgust.

According to Edenborg: While the pro and the anti depend on uncovering/defending a secret/truth/genitals/interiority, parapornography rejects this model and instead creates something that Edenborg compares to “quantum mechanics”: it can “extract endless excitment from the same skin flap” and “the mucous membranes are prismatic.” Instead of exteriority/interiority we get an undulating figure that admits poisons, a necropastoral pornography of the “spasming membrane” (Joyelle’s quote). This is Edenborg’s list of qualities of Parapornography:

Mechanical repetition
The infinity of revealing
The exploded affection theory
The critical will to power
The violent pollution
Protesology and displacement

(continue reading…)

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"Masks and outfits are exchanged": Some Thoughts on Guy Maddin's Keyhole, James Pate, Minor Lit and Narrative

by on Aug.08, 2012

I think James’s post from yesterday was really wonderful at exploring the idea of “minor literature,” but also art more generally.

I loved this description of a certain kind of artwork:

The novel of manners and certain realist novels are built like a multi-storied house: the family occupies one floor, economics another, the courts yet another. They might be of the same house, but there are still divisions between them. In minor literature, the family triangle is de-Oedipalized: the house is of a single floor, and the family moves among the judges who move among the cops who move among the rabbis and priests who move among the teachers and professors. Masks and outfits are exchanged, roles reenacted, snatches of dialogue tossed about. Genet’s The Balcony comes to mind. In fact, all of Genet’s plays come to mind.

This for me describes a kind of “genre” that I’ve always been interested in: the allegory that becomes too much for an allegorical reading; an allegory where seemingly the stuff of art wrecks the allegory; an allegory where the “floor” between vehicle and tenor collapses. Obviously Kafka is the key example of this (evidence: all the unconvincing books that tries to read his books as allegorical – Freudian or Marxist or religious etc).

Many of my favorite instances of this kind of story are the “minor” works by major artists. Take for example “The Hour of the Wolf” by Ingmar Bergman. (Here’s some corpse-sex, Max Von Sydow in make-up, and general melodrama from that movie:)

Someone who has dwelt in this zone for a couple of decades is Canada’s brilliant film-maker Guy Maddin. In his amazing recent film “Keyhole,” Maddin seems to have come on the same kind of analogy as James: A house where everything collapses together (continue reading…)

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Nathalie Djurberg's Parade

by on Aug.01, 2012

Thomas Micchelli has an interesting essay about Nathalie Djurberg’s exhibit “The Parade,” now up at the New Museum in NYC:

Surrealism, like “dreamlike,” has become a meaningless catchall for anything transgressive or eerie. True surrealism, however, is shocking in its familiarity — the obsessions and cruelties played out in Djurberg’s films are the cravings we necessarily but too often unsuccessfully repress in order to carry on with our alleged civilization. The only difference between us and the images of Djurberg’s “Parade” is that they are closer to the mud than we prefer to believe we are. Their transgression is in their distillation of the everyday.

I wrote the post “Necropastoral Parades” about the show after I saw it in Mpls a while back:

As in Joyelle’s necropastoral, it seems the plague is a subtext: art running like Artaud’s subterrenean plague. In the most upsetting piece, the one in which the “sons” torture their purple mother, the sons are wearing plague masks, but it doesn’t protect them against art – and it certainly doesn’t protect their mother… This art plague animates the entire collection into a spasmy, jerky “parade” that ultimately leads to the grotesque, materially occult moment of the last video, where the white man seems both corpse and patient, ravished or saved by the bird of paradise.

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"Just Write!": The Corruption of Criticism

by on Jul.02, 2012

It’s interesting to see the backlash against AD Jameson’s post about sincerity as technique; the intensity of which I think justifies my idea that it’s worth discussing.

It seems like most people are NOT objecting to the posts on the grounds that we’ve discussed here on Montevidayo – ie the concept of sincerity, the idea that there are formalist techniques separated off from culture. Instead they seem to object to it because they object to Jameson writing anything at all about sincerity, about poetry. In other words, they reject criticism as an insincere approach to poetry.
(continue reading…)

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Letter to the editor ("I am its excess spit into the world. I am the city's counterfeit body, the queer it expelled, the queer it now calls on to confess.")

by on Jun.28, 2012

[I get a lot of letters from people I don’t know but who read my poems and/or Montevidayo; it is actually very nice (when the letters are nice, they are just as often full of hate). I just got this letter the other day from Sean Wehle, and I thought it was moving so I decided to post it. Of course I am – as I noted in my post on Dear Ra – very interested in the epistolary form.]

Dear Johannes,

I’ve been spurred by the moment to send you this note, though this moment could also have been any moment in the past two years. I’m a college student, but more importantly, a very frequent flyer over Montevidayo. You and Joyelle and everyone are teachers I learn from everyday and I cannot separate myself now from your one little URL.

I don’t remember what happened. First I found myself in Joyelle’s Loser Occult. “Outside the campus bookstore a few weeks ago, I glimpsed a white minivan with a green bumper sticker reading ‘I miss Ronald Reagen’ in big goopy white Snoopy toothpaste font.” She would soon incant, “the borders of the text fray away,” and I realized suddenly where I was standing: Notre Dame, somewhere between the alumni association center and the guard gate leading me out of the parking lot, into the graveyard. I did a little research on the spot to puzzle out that Joyelle and you, indeed, both live in South Bend, and work at the university. Somehow I had returned — I myself was born in South Bend, and probably at some point already died there. But I did live there for 18 years, with my mother in a house across from ‘White Field’ parking lot, just behind the new golf course. In fact neither of those ‘landmarks’ existed for the majority of those years; my time growing up in that neighborhood is marked out for me by the slow compression of space the university pressured. I left for college to lift up. I can’t be blamed for needing a lift. But when I became a member of the loser occult and began reading Montevidayo, I saw everywhere only signs of the city I left. But its value — transformed. I recognize my luck having been born against a necropastoral, learning to drive in a quarantined parking lot, or seeing my cardboard trash repossessed by men carrying print-outs of protesting dead babies, or visiting my schizophrenic aunt as she hosted salons at Kinko’s. I had always thought my past life produced a sense. I understand now how it only destroyed me.
(continue reading…)

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The Eurovision Contest and Hannah Weiner's THE FAST

by on Jun.15, 2012


What could possibly link a Turkish boy band impersonating not just pirates but a pirate ship, and the swashbuckling and nautically inclined Hannah Weiner, other than my own mealy neural matter? Perhaps you will follow this link to a little questionnaire I filled out for the Rescue Press blog regarding one of my favorite books, Hannah Weiner’s The Fast. Here’s a teaser:

The recent Eurovision Song of the Year contest in Baku might be a good analog for my ideas about Art: live, scrambled, loud, long, spectacular, kitschy, polyglot, ridiculous, rife with expenditure, pouring out streamers, twins, costumes, applause, wasting money, running on occult currents of politics and violence which sometimes push through the surface, rupturing the torso of some pirate-styled Turkish boy-band member with its bloody head to address the audience in writhing semaphore.

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