“It’s like rooting around in a grave”: Necrophilia and Modernism in Lars Norén

by on Sep.28, 2013

[Here is another excerpt from the memoir/criticism book I’ve been working on lately. Like the other things I’ve posted on the blog, it has to do with Lars Norén’s work, especially his massive diaries that have been published in two volumes over the past few years. In many ways I feel very close to Norén’s work – both his writing and his diaries – and I’m trying to work through that here. So if it seems at times as if I’m writing about myself or my own work (as Lara noted on Facebook), maybe that’s true.]

On the train I read Lars Norén’s diaries. The more I actually read these diaries, the more interesting Greider’s claim that Norén (or his work) is a kind of corpse gets; and I sense my own thinking about not just Norén’s writing but my own writing start to shift. To begin with, around December 2001, at the same time as he’s going through a divorce and starting a new relationship, Norén goes through incredible physical ailments. He starts having diarrhea and vomiting constantly. He can’t keep anything down, as he repeatedly notes. It seems that everything just runs through him; his physical body cannot maintain its integrity, its completeness. So when Greider imagines Norén bleeding on a dissection table, he is in some sense describing this leaky, grotesque body that Norén himself describes.
This leakiness impedes a lot of his social interactions. For example, he has to hurry from dinners (with his family, colleagues); he wakes up vomiting in the middle the night. And importantly, it prevents him from fucking his new girlfriend: He says he’s too sick to “tränga in” himself in her. It’s a peculiar word for sex, “tränga” meaning to penetrate but also to push or force, and also to crowd (a “trängsel” means a crowd). The sick body prevents sociality and sexuality. It destabilizes his body and life, but it also stabilizes it as he is forced to stay indoors, kept from going out to shop, and kept inside to read and write, and he seems to get creatively going, working on four plays at the same time. The writing seems to take the place of the fucking.

And then things go from bad to worse. He has to have a jaw surgery – a part of the jaw is apparently cut off – that involves shutting his mouth with some kind of plastic prosthesis, that not only forces him to go on an all-fluid diet but which makes all the soups he’s forced to drink (he tries all kinds of fancy flavors, such as lobster bisque etc) taste like plastic. This seems the ultimate insult to a sensualist who spend much of his diary discussing the food he eats, often fancy meals (lobsters, sushi etc), someone for whom food – as much as art and clothes – takes up a large part of the diary.

Perhaps even worse, his face swells us horrifically, so that he can’t recognize himself in the mirror. He compares himself to “Francis Bacon,” a comparison that doesn’t just invoke what his face looks like, but also conveys the horror of not recognizing one’s own visage. I had an experience like that when I was about 10 or 11. I had a sinus infection that somehow got out of hand, and the sinuses around one eye swelled up so that I couldn’t even look out of that eye. That horror came back to me when I read about Norén’s experience of losing his own face in his own diary.

(It’s strange for me to write that because I’m sitting in this little hotel room in Göteborg and right in front of my little desk is a mirror so that whenever I pause I look up at my own face: my balding head, the wrinkles in my skin, the graying beard, the weird little random straws that stick out of my eye brows.)
When Norén compares his face to Bacon’s painting, it’s worthwhile thinking about the vehicle as well as the tenor of that metaphor (that’s generally true) – the sick body is like a work of art. And it seems sickness, love and art are all things that destroy Norén. At one very vulnerable moment he says: “I can’t defend myself. I don’t have any tools for defending myself.” [Jag kan inte värja mig. jag har inga redskap för att värja mig.”]. There is a naked vulnerability with which he approaches his life that makes him incapable maintaining control.
(continue reading…)

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"…overcrowding, doubling up, debility and damage": Vicuna, Asco, Ethnic Fan Fiction and Possession

by on Jan.04, 2013

I’m going to piggy-back on a few recent posts by myself and others.
Yesterday, Joyelle wrote the following about “The Black Art of Hilma af Klimt and Kim Hyesoon”:

“…and also of Kim Hyesoon’s entire ouevre, any poem, in which forms contain, die, give birth, give way to more forms, and the end of eternity can never be found. Creatures keep consuming each other, shitting, tearing, pushing through each other, and the significance of any given form or container is that it marks a boundary which can be pushed through, though one which always might reconstitute itself.”

A while back I wrote about Fan Fiction in similar terms:

What became apparent to me from reading Megan’s review is this crucial notion, the “vampirism” or “cannibalism” or “channeling” of art: it’s art that makes more art, that feeds off other art to make it immortal, to pass on fluids from one art to the next artwork.

The difference between the “black art” of Kim Hyesoon and a vampire however might be the sense of the poet as a medium rather than a vampire, the art moves through the poet with much less of a conscious sucking of blood (and shitting out immortality?). A few years ago when Joyelle wrote about the art of Fi Jae Lee (KH’s daughter) as “body possessed by media,” she was already calling forth this occult dimension of art:

(continue reading…)

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Some Readings/Wmagazine is the New Family Bible (Weil, Sontag, Jacobs)

by on Nov.26, 2012

super linda

(Hi. wrote this some weeks back.)

Wmagazine is the New Family Bible

/a fairy tale

It was good timing that our New Yorker prescription ran out and not so long after the magazine W took its place and started circulation within our home (wife went on an obsessed internet survey-binge and amassed some free stuff: tea, soaps, lady things, Martha Stewart’s magazine and W). The first issue was some kind of super-size-me-up binder full of mid-evil pixiegoth housewifery, featuring among other awesome things, Super Linda.

O dread

Our daughter, at 5, now comes home from school, asks for a snack (“I just want candy”) and hangs out in the sun room, flipping through the magazine. One of the twins was reading it the other night while watching Jeopardy (or maybe it was The Rifleman). It should be said though (mom) that other than that first issue (which has mysteriously disappeared, boys will be boys will be girls etc.) there is not much in terms of visible nipple-crotch-ass nudity going on.

(continue reading…)

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Exploded Kitsch Collections and Tourists in Art: Thåström, Kim Hyesoon, Harry Martinsson, Jules Verne and Aase Berg

by on Nov.15, 2012

In Daniel Tiffany’s upcoming book, Silver Planet, he discovers the roots of kitsch in poetry. More specifically in the “poetic” language: artificial-seeeming language, language that is deforms by foreignisms. But he also finds it in fake translations, The Arabian Nights, and the gothic in 19th century. In her book “Artificial Kingdom,” Celesete Olalquiaga (who came to our panel the other day on kitsch in NYC – thanks CO!) finds it similarly in the Victorian habit of collecting sea life and/or ferns in aquariums, in the Crystal Palace, which contained all kinds of collections, and in Captain Nemo’s underwater world.

Something that pervades both of these spheres is the idea of collecting, of gathering, of taxonomy and taxidermy, and also: orientalism. This collecting seems driven by a fascination with the foreign as well as the need to contain it. But what fascinates me a great deal is how these collections, these attempts to organize and make sense of and defend ourselves against the foreign tends to break down, thus becoming a site of infection, a site of melee, rather than a containment.

In some way this is all about art. Anytime we read poetry, we become tourists in art. (continue reading…)

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

by on Jun.23, 2012


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

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

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

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

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Fake-ish Memoir Totes Sincere, Unusually Embodied Affect Performance

by on Jun.19, 2012

The excellent new issue of PANK Magazine has some excerpts from The Book of Scab, my fake-ish memoir epistolary novel ‘under the sign of poetry’ (a phrase I borrow from our brilliant friend Kate Zambreno). This includes MP3s of me reading the excerpts wherein you cannot hear my teenaged neighbor playing a warbly, tripped-out electric guitar version of the melody to Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” but rest assured I could. The first excerpt is ars poetica re: beauty & sincerity:

Dear Mom and Dad,

I wanted to make something clean. Don’t you know? I wanted to make something that was not porous, no matter how closely you looked—and not you, but your machine, lens exponential in its uncompromising pronouncement. Something without fleck or pore, without texture. I wanted to make a surface that exceeded all classical efforts in its commitment to beauty. I did, then. Like everyone.


Did I lose my taste for beauty, or did I just cross into the room where its mask was worn?

(The second is all crush-abduction–maybe a hint of Johannes’s Dear Ra Shirley Temple gender-inverted–and the third has psychic powers, FYI. Includes melodramatic sincerity & brattiness. No sadcore tigers, yet, unless you count Mötley Crüe.)

Carina Finn’s throwdown “MELODRAMA IS THE NEW SINCERITY” reminds us that in order to convince the normate (see Rosmarie Garland-Thomson) of one’s sincerity, a feminine subject must do things like widen her eyes, tear up (real or with irritants; see America’s Next Top Model crying photo shoots), dilate her pupils with physical effort-conjuring-special drops (movies often use the drops; pupil dilation also conveys sexy feelings and possible anime conversion!), tilt her head (trust; exposed jugular; etc.), spread her hands out in front of her (see “The Girl Without Hands” Grimm 031), and show restraint in the face (on the face!) of overwhelming emotion (see Boris Kachka on Joan Didion in the recent New York Magazine: “Both The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights are recognizably memoirs of grief, but they’re rendered in Didion’s familiar remote voice. It’s an oddly effective fit: Her coolness plays against the genre’s sentimental excesses but still allows her to avoid argument and indulge in open-ended reveries built from repetitions of painful facts.”).

It’s not surprising. Identity studies has long demonstrated that if marginalized subjects wish to communicate sincerity, trustworthiness, honesty, and the like to those in power, they must early on learn to properly perform humble and subjugated gestures. & since none of us is a performance-bot, these embodiments become complex messaging systems (see, for instance, George Yancy Black Bodies, White Gazes). Like any other, the learned sincerity-performance may be internalized, may become a central component of the subject’s experience of essential self. When I meet your eye, widen my eyes, when I blink back the tears, am I revealing myself or my construction? I’m sure I don’t know. (continue reading…)

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

by on Jun.13, 2012

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

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

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

Here are some meaning of “Document” from 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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The Gurlesque Deformation Zone: Kim Hyesoon, Maria Margarete Österholm

by on Apr.30, 2012

I’d like to say that I’ve been working on the gurlesque for ten years now – in essays, in my own writing, and in this dissertation. But I hadn’t heard the term until recently. A big girl of flesh, a Baby Wonder, stepped out of the closet and received a name.

(Maria Margareta Österholm, dissertation on “the gurlesque”)

It seems a lot of US discussions about translation get stuck between strategies of domestication (rendering foreign poets into US poets, erasing the process of translation) and foreignizing (emphasizing the foreign-ness of the translated text). I have a problem with both of these models: the first because it tends to lead to the kind of translations that wash out difference, and the second because it keeps the translated text in a kind of quarantine, as if we can’t truly be engaged by a foreign text, as if the foreign text might contaminate (it’s exotic! We don’t have the proper contexts! We’re “appropriating”!). The end result of both seems to be to maintain an idea of US literature, of US literary lineage, and of a certain idea of the text as self-contained.

For example, although I thought it was a really fine close reading of Kim Hyesoon’s All the Garbage of the World, Unite! (and I’m very interested in a lot of the things she talks about in it), I couldn’t help but find in Sueyeun Juliette Lee’s reveiw a strangely striational urge to emphasize that Kim Hyesoon is not an American poet:

Though there are incredible transformations in Kim’s poetry, I found it to be nothing like the neo-American-surrealism that is so popular among mainstream-ing contemporary work. And whether we are attuned to it or not, there are terrifically resonant historical sub-terrains in this mode of writing. There are genuine, deeply dire consequences to the transactions Kim describes in her engagements with the world. She is not trying to be trendy—she is trying to live.

In many ways this quote re-states the rhetoric of Carolyn Forche’s seminal anthology “Against Forgetting,” where she basically makes the point that European poets could write Surrealist poetry because their world had been so overwhelmed by suffering and war, implying that it would be immoral for US poets to be influenced by them (though she herself clearly was in The Angel of History). Here, US poets are merely “trendy” if they write like Kim, while she is “trying to live.” They would be hipsters, people whose lives are ruled by art, style, not necessity, not real “life.” (They’re passing, they’re drag queens, they’re counterfeits, they’re artifice, they traffic in exoticism and kitsch.)
(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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More Gaudy Possibilities: Sentimentality vs Intensity

by on Feb.06, 2012

Stick the antennae into the poem!
I can hear the radio!
I sew up the body needles with needles and thread
It’s become a sagging yellow Yankee bag
Almost ready
I’m going to fire this body as a bullet!
(Hagiwara Kyojiro, “Morning*Noon*Night*Robot, Burning City)

I thought I would continue my response to Gene Tanta’s questions of whether my ideas about poetry could be reduced to a kind “fun.” In my last post, I talked about how my own experiences with art (such as Patti Smith, Aase Berg) don’t jive with the prevailing idea that art, and mechanical reproduction, “compromises” the materiality of experience; how art in fact strikes me as incredibly physically intensive.

In the latest issue of Pleiades (which, as I’ve said before, is a very excellent journal of reviews of books; a few issues back it had a review of Gunnar Björling that is one of the best things I’ve ever read about him, including essays by Swedish/Finnish critics), a poet named Joy Katz has curated some essays about “sentimentality.” In several of these essays, particularly in Katz’s own essays, art is modeled as a kind of mask, something that interferes with the communication of emotions. This might be the “quietist” version of the lefty critique I discussed in the Patti Smith post. Katz is in favor of “sentiment,” which she equates with “sincerity” and “emotions.”
(continue reading…)

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meandering thoughts on Elizabeth Grosz’s “Becoming Undone” and caves

by on Dec.28, 2011

Introduction to a variation on the cave:

“Here it is possible to give only a rough summary of what is involved, and Pierre Janet’s theoretical and clinical writings are moreover available to everyone. I will, however, briefly describe some personal experiences, but which are wholly in accord with observations published in the medical literature, for example with the invariable response of schizophrenics to the question: where are you? I know where I am, but I do not feel as though I’m at the spot where I find myself. To these dispossessed souls, space seems to be a devouring force. Space pursues them, encircles them, digests them in a gigantic phagocytosis. It ends by replacing them. Then the body separates itself from thought, the individual breaks the boundary of his skin and occupies the other side of his senses. He tries to look at himself from any point whatever in space. He feels himself becoming space, dark space where things cannot be put. He is similar, not similar to something, but just similar. And he invents spaces of which he is “the convulsive possession.” All these expressions shed light on a single process: depersonalization by assimilation to space, i.e., what mimicry achieves morphologically in certain animal species.” ~ F.P. Caillois “Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia

A suspicion lingers among writers and thinkers of an ancient wisdom, that the whole of the universe is contained within each of its particles. Unique patterns in classical art, intuited by the “individual genius” are also redundantly elaborated in mathematics, discovered in the tiniest and oldest of fossils. See the foraminifera garden, which features enlarged replicas of 330 million years old organisms:

See the cell:

Madness: (continue reading…)

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Puke Silk: Rihanna and Kim Hyesoon

by on Dec.07, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(continue reading…)

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