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

by on Jun.13, 2012

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

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

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

Here are some meaning of “Document” from Dictionary.com:

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

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

(continue reading…)

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Sincerity – New? Old? Normative?

by on Jun.08, 2012

Over at HTML Giant, AD Jameson has been blogging about “Sincerity” and “New Sincerity”:

Why sincerity? What is its present value? My broad and still developing belief is that “sincere” writing is one means of breaking with the aesthetics of postmodernism and self-referentiality: invocation of Continental Theory, metatextuality, excessive cleverness, hyper-allusion, &c. What makes writing “sincerely” even more delicious when perceived against postmodernism 1960–2000 is that it proposes to offer precisely what PoMo said didn’t matter or couldn’t exist: direct communion with another coherent, expressive self, even truth by means of language.

I’ve always felt very sincere about my approach to poetry, but I’ve always felt dismayed at the kinds of discussions “sincerity” seems to generate, so I thought I’d offer a few replies to Jameson’s post.

I think his discussion makes for a broader terrain of talking about art and poetry. In Poetry, it’s obviously a move away from Language poetry and “elliptical poetry”, but it’s not a simple rejection of experimentalism, since folks like Dodie Bellamy and Ariana Reines could be said to be participants in this aesthetic. “Experimentalism” is also part of the “new sincerity.”

One of Jameson’s examples is Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In an Aeroplane Over the Sea”. This suggests to me the unstable terrain of this term “sincerity.” Here we have a record that – as far as I remember it, it’s been years since I listened to it – is loaded with occult symbolism, baroque lyrics, pataphysics and a central story about ouiji-boarding Anne Frank back in the songs. In that way, the occult seems to be almost a parody of sincerity: to actually have a dead girls talk through one’s own microphone:

(As for long titles, I’ve written a book called Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate. It was very sincere and autobiographical, but it was also a pageant. I also have a book – Dear Ra – consisting of letters to an ex-girlfriend, but unfortunately I misremember indie rock lyrics in it.)
(continue reading…)

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"… a kind of looping movement": Bersani, Aase Berg, Karl Smuts and Torture/Art

by on May.24, 2012

I’ve been reading Leo Bersani’s more recent writings, where he moves from the more anti-social idea of art to the idea that art – and by art he means something pretty Montevidayian, something very crossmedial, very wide-ranigng, not something isolated in the proper “artwork” – as creating these “correspondences”, not just between people but between people and the world. At the heart of his thinking about art is still the “shattering” experience,” art generates a kind of excess that is impossible for a traditional notion of identity to contain. It is not

“… a subject-object dualism nor a fusion of subject and object; there is rather a kind of looping movement between the two. The world finds itself in the subject and the subject finds itself in the world.” (from “Psychoanalysis and the Aesthetic Subject)

This made me think about my recent post about “The Girl and the Raven (or Crow)”. In this song the violence – the convulsive spasms of the bleeding crow – creates for me what I called a “blurred anatomy.” This is Art. It creates a kind of movement by which the identities of the three four people involved in the song are connected: girl, crow, dreamer/speaker and singer (Mikael Wiehe) are all the same. Wiehe over-interprets his dream, repeatedly emphasizing that “the child” represents him and that the crow is his “hope.” He tries really hard to assign identities to all of the characters, but it seems to me that he fails and that his over-attempt suggests this failure. The characters enter into a “looping movement” where “the subject” is profoundly troubled by the excess of art, art which “blurs” with its shattering violence. The crow has been shot it seems before the song/dream starts; we’re just supposed to assumed that there are hunters or whoever running around; but isn’t it really the song that shoots the raven? The song is a kind of wounding, of which the crow is both emblem and medium.

This sense of looping movement reminds me of Aase Berg’s infamous guinea pig poems: (continue reading…)

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Action Books: Art and Other Fluids

by on May.18, 2012

[We launched a new and improved Action Books web site. And for the occasion we wrote a new press manifesto:]


Action Books is transnational.

Action Books is interlingual.

Action Books is Futurist.

Action Books is No Future.

Action Books is feminist.

Action Books is political.

Action Books is for noisies.

Action Books believes in historical avant-gardes.

& unknowable dys-contemporary discontinuous occultly continuous anachronistic avant-gardes.

Art, Genre, Voice, Prophecy, Theatricality, Materials, the Bodies, Foreign Tongues, and Other Foreign Objects and Substances, if taken internally, may break apart societal forms.

“In an Emergency, Break Forms.”

Action Books: Art and Other Fluids

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"Tonårs Jesus": Blurry X-Ray Bodies of Paul Cunningham, Francis Bacon, Pablo Gonzales Trejo

by on May.16, 2012

In response to my last post (about the blurry CROW), Paul Cunningham sent me the following image by Pablo Gonzales Trejo:

[This remind me of The Ring’s crossed-out faces and the “swarm media” of those movies: replication of pale bodies, of dying horses, with insects coming out of the video tape. But that will be the next post, about Brandi Wells’ Poisonhorse.]

Paul has just published a wonderful Internet-book called Foamghast, which is teeming with swarmy, blurry bodies:

“…an x-rayed wound in an x-rayed mouth:
salted gasp, bloodestablished
a meat of violent plum

an x-rayed wound in an
an x-rayed cavernous mouth:
one of those tastes you’re
forced to taste”

The first thing I thought about when I read this was Francis Bacon’s paintings of his lover, George Dyer, one of which was based on X-rays of the lover’s skull (I don’t know if this is it):

(continue reading…)

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What Hannah Weiner Means to Me

by on Apr.14, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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Monkey Bicycle Interviews Me about Aase Berg, Transfer Fat

by on Apr.03, 2012

Excerpt from the interview:

MB: Transfer Fat is your third translation from Aase Berg, following Remainland (Action Books, 2005) and With Deer (Black Ocean, 2009). Can you talk to us a little about how you became connected with Berg, about how this translator / poet relationship began and has developed over time?

JG: I started reading Aase’s poetry when I was in college. I came across her work in a Swedish literary journal and immediately I got my grandma in Stockholm to go out and buy me a copy of the book (Aase’s first book, Hos Rådjur). I was really blown away: not only were the poems viscerally powerful but I also felt a deep affinity with her sensibility. It came at an important time for me: Ever since I started writing poetry and other musings in junior high, I had never really doubted my own vision until I got to college and got in contact with the official aesthetics of modernism and contemporary american poetry (whether quietist or experimental), and they had informed me that what I was doing was tasteless, “too much”, unrefined, and that there was no place for me and what I was doing. Aase’s poetry was beautiful, gothic and absolutely entrancing. There was no poetry like it in contemporary American poetry. Her poetry inspired me to be more fierce, more obsessed and possessed, more occultly glamorous without caring for the official standards of taste. I didn’t start translating the book until a couple of years later when I was in MFA school, and then it was to show her work to some of my friends who I knew would like it. When I graduated I continued to translate her work; I contacted Aase and she sent me her next couple of books – Mörk materia and Forsla fett – and I started translating them as well. Forsla fett (Transfer Fat) was the one that really forced me to develop as a translator – to be more creative in my translation practice and to theorize that practice, to think about both the translation act/crime and Aase’s poetry…

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Deformation Zone: Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Göransson on translation

by on Mar.09, 2012

Joyelle and I wrote a joint chapbook of translation theory, Deformation Zone, published by Ugly Duckling Presse. You can buy it here.

This is what they say about it on their web site:

Theoretically minded and practice oriented, McSweeney and Göransson’s interests range outside the literary mainstream and even the “experimental” literary mainstream, incorporating cutting-edge media theory, the aesthetics of abjection, and theories of disability as they apply to translation. Deformation Zone: On Translation comprises two essays, one by each author, exploring their ideas.

It’s actually two lectures we gave at a conference a couple of years ago. Both use the work of Aase Berg as a starting point (her poem “Deformation Zone” gives the book its name), though Joyelle also discusses John Waters (her section is called “Translation: The Filthiest Medium Alive”) and Matthew Barney; and mine talks in more detail about Aase’s work as well as Christian Hawkey’s Ventrakl.

My piece, which is called “Translation Wounds” begins like this:

(continue reading…)

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Ecologies of Sensation: The Book(s) of Bhanu Kapil and Clarice Lispector

by on Feb.21, 2012

The rainbow sloth, like literature, suffuses and shatters your body.

“The mask is what you use; it isn’t a fake, it’s a mask.  Your senses love you; they evolved to be your mask–or you made them, didn’t you?” –Alice Notley, Culture of One

Lately, I’ve been compelled to regard books as pulsating organisms with ecologies and becomings of their own.  If once the book struck me as an intermediary technology between writers, their subjects, readers, and God, I now often get the feeling that these figures orbit the book.  This is to say that I think a book creates and undoes its own material boundaries.  Through sensation, a book may animate another’s body, or take on mythic, mystic, otherworldly proportions; it may stand in, like scripture, for all books and words at a given point in time; or it may do none of these things.  Whether the book fails or succeeds in its trajectory or finds unexpected lines of flight, it’s always capable of more (more, more) futures than we can anticipate.

As in Amit Rai’s concept of ecologies of sensation, my version/vision of the book situates it in multiple timespaces:  the book is “an event that performs anew with each repetition and with each new scene of circulation […] an unpredictable but patterned trajectory of present conforming to past but open to future mutations.”  A happy accident in my Intermediate Poetry class last term confirmed the book’s event-like unpredictability.  Months before its publication, I’d assigned Bhanu Kapil’s Schizophrene.  When my copy came in the mail, I saw that it reset and repeated itself after the first 20 pages.  In fact, my occult copy embodied Bhanu’s description of its “arcing once more through the crisp dark air;” it stuttered with a blunt physical force not unlike “a schizophrenic narrative [that] cannot process the dynamic elements of an image, any image.”  Even the page with publication details insisted on reproducing itself, exploding the narrative over and beyond the table of contents that traditionally delimit it.

“On the night I knew my book had failed, I threw it.”  I love how, by thwarting its author’s intentions, the corrected copy of Schizophrene also sketches its own body, “a hunk of electromagnetic fur torn from the side of something still living and thrown.”  A body that itself becomes indistinguishable from one of the book’s ‘human’ subjects later on:  “Can you smell her burning fur?”

Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star enacts a porosity so total, for me, that it seems to inhabit yet diverge from the same ecology of sensations.  It is, as in Edmond Jabes’ lifelong conversation with the page, an evolution of the book (continue reading…)

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"The field– it's covered in blood!"– 'Watership Down', 'a world of difference' and the Necropastoral

by on Jan.27, 2012


[[UPDATE: I’m certain there is an occult link between Watership Down and the ‘Bunny House’ sign in the ‘Food Now’ fake protest performance in Dan’s post just below. I think these two ‘training exercises’ are actually one continuous decades long training exercise.]]

Montevidayans, I’ve recently been musing on the feverdream that was the movie, ‘Watership Down’. This trailer pretty much sums it up as I remember it. Except in my memory, ‘heroic bravery’ is completely outweighed by violence, tyranny, and the excellently mis-matched evil eyes of the bad rabbit. And what the narrator calls ‘a world of difference’.  I’m going to rewatch this film and write more, but for now, here’s the trailer. Anyone else remember this nasty bit of film?



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

by on Jan.09, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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Poetry Fundamentals: Power, Risk, & Resistance

by on Dec.11, 2011


Stop the Heavens
from crashing to the Earth.
This is the cry of the biggest
assholes in Heaven.

– from The Portable Atlas

Last month Robert Hass and Brenda Hillman were beaten by Berkeley police, and Geoffrey O’Brien ended up with a broken rib. They are obviously not the only poets (“academic” or otherwise) to suffer at the hands of the State since the Occupy movement started, but they are the first to be given an opinion piece after the fact in The New York Times. Generally speaking, I’m not all that interested in their credentials or even their poetic oeuvre. What interests me here is their act of resistance as a form of poetry. (continue reading…)

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The Gorgeous Epic and Engorgement of the Potatoesque

by on Dec.01, 2011

A co-authored-mingling with Lucas “Blue Fairy G.E.M.” De Lima
my cheek is the shattered sky (Raúl Zurita)What is magnetic about the potato is its bulbous, cheek-like humility and humiliation.  The root of humiliation is lowliness, humble, on the ground, humus, of the earth.  Holding a potato in our hands, we want to brush the dirt off its adorable roundness, hold it against our breasts, kiss its endless cheek, wrap it in foil and throw it in a fire, boil it, mutilate it, masticate it, swallow the mashed bolus, feel the energy from its soft life force as our stomach acids further decay it.

I want to eat,
I want to eat,
I want to eat,
I want to eat,
I don’t care whom (Hiromi Ito)

In both its vulnerability and annihilation, the potato resists nothing.

Through a gaze that is, simultaneously, self and other, the potato shatters us:  before our ensconced pupils, uncanny eyes blink open and sprout.  To become-potato is to become what we see, smell, hear, and taste–or to act on the hunger of yellow, ferocious videogame stars. As that which triggers and sustains the poet’s all-consuming cannibalism, the potato gorges on dotted lines.  Just as Mr. and Ms. Pac-Man must eventually devour one another, our pockmarked crop makes opposites feed off each other.  As earthlings, we find ourselves lovingly eating the sky.

The star will consume the star whose every twinkle is a blink of memory (Edmond Jabès)

When we begin becoming-potato, we anticipate the silence of the earth until it cries.  We feel the necropastoral decay that supersaturates the ground.  Suddenly, the mute shadows of untimely, unruly bodies scream, and we hear this angelic shrieking despite our godlessness. The potatoesque erupts as an exercise in extreme empathy, in baring our cheek, in rolling over to flash our private parts at you, chthonic and celestial parasites.

Can you smell her burning fur? (Bhanu Kapil)

A blind, asexual stem tuber, the potato expands as a rhizome.  Its surface is a field of eyes or nodes.  While blind, these eyes are sensate, part of a field of compost teeming with writhing, blood-stained worms.  Each node opens a threshold for further feeding on decay, a portal through which tiny revolts breach out.

This occult, (non)uterine (non)motherhood is the chorus of a thousand tiny sexes (as in Grosz’s feminism of rhizomatics).

Hermaphroditic marshmallows, stay squishy as worm infected potatoes in the dark earth. Stay aware of and in the silent excess of pain in the dying flesh below the earth that is infected with violence. Vibrating monads, jiggle your pink tongues as you perceive. Leak down the intersex! (Aaron Apps)

Unlike poetics aimed at (hybrid) synthesis or (straight) futurity or (mere) resignification, the potatoesque embraces queer and constant mutation, reproduction, and synesthetic consumption.  By occupying the black of censored lines–the shameful, hysterical symptoms of our infected bodies–our famine-ending orb speaks through and against capitalist realism’s ideological and material garbage.

What the potatoesque thwarts, as the heart of Anything and Everything, is legibility.

As the text sucks into itself sky, seagull, and surface as well as depth, landfill, and ground, we kiss and become its unnamable mush.  We give ourselves to all potato cries.

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