On Art, Sacrifice, Ecstasy, and Love

by on Nov.05, 2011

[I presented this at the &Now Conference in UC San Diego on Oct 15 as part of the “No Future” panel.]


20,000 kg is approximately 44,092 pounds.

How many bags is that?

A few weeks ago, poet Tenzing Rigdol stole this much dirt from Tibet and flew it to Dharamsala in India, where over 80,000 Tibetans live in exile. Was this an act of desperation. Was this an act of art. Was this an act of love. 

At the Mandeville Special Collections Library yesterday, I opened one of Alice Notley’s journals at random, and this was the first thing I read: “Love … is a great spirit, Socrates.”

“Love,” Bataille wrote, “expresses a need for sacrifice.” You could lose yourself in love. In the 16th century, Meera drank poison out of her love for Krishna. Before her, Christ “eagerly endure[d] wounds, even death itself”: so as to serve the beloved, according to Erasmus. Erasmus also concluded that Christ’s torment itself makes him lovable, an object of desire. The erotic nature of sacrificial pain has been especially apparent to mystics, who are themselves made (like Frankenstein’s monster) out of an extravagance of love.

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&now false pregnancies

by on Oct.20, 2011

(I plagiarized myself a bit. Sorry, self.) Then I presented part of these malformations at the No Future panel at &now.

Poetry as Hysterical Pregnancy

As a woman of child bearing age, I live my life inside the anxious sphere of always being potentially pregnant, potentially double, inhabited, possessed by the uncontrollable proliferation of cells inside me. I’d rather not have a baby, but I know that perversely, I really actually want to be pregnant. Ideally, this would be a pregnancy without birth. I would keep the baby inside me, protected, subconscious, forever. A pregnancy without terms. I’ve been obsessed and possessed by this idea since adolescence, which is also when I started writing poetry. To me, poetry and pregnancy are the same thing. It is about the potentiality of new life, new voice. Yet both are things I cannot allow. I will not pretend to do anything good with my poetry, which is a voice unborn even in manifestation, which will not gaze back at me in the forest of symbols, which will always be embodied without body, dark, not human. This isn’t meant to have a negative connotation, this hysterical and endless pregnancy. I think it is a metaphor of incipience, desire, possession, and incubation. It’s only termination is death, the ultimate potentiality.


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WUI 2 / Johannes Göransson: Born on the 4th of July

by on Oct.14, 2011

“Art is fundamentally tasteless” (Johannes Göransson)

“It’s a good thing I was born a girl, otherwise I’d be a drag queen” (Dolly Parton)

Reporting live from San Diego, where I’m gazing out from my Surfer Beach Hotel balcony at the pale morning moon hanging over the ocean, a footloose guitarist serenading the surfers, salty breeze stinging my eyes a little—if I were a Cancer, I’d be weeping. Instead, I’m merely a Gemini who’s hounded by Cancers, despite what Sarah C says, including the Cancer in question, even if my experience of this hounding is, at bottom, just a fanciful and elaborate distraction, My Own Private JG you might say. And apparently I’m not the only one who takes issue with Cancers: Mary Anne Carter, in “Astrological Noise” (Supermachine #3), claims “Cancers are the most convicted criminals and have the highest chance of becoming serial killers.”  So that’s unsettling and maybe even true. Some Cancers, the more evolved ones, know how to mediate these rather more grim aspects of their character in places like colonial pageants, animal bodies, masquerades, blog personae, abandoned bible belt warehouses, guinea pig caves where rodential bachanalia translates as black blood that keeps coming and coming, as depth psychologists, poets, mothers, and so on. Humbert Humbert was probably a Cancer, but so might Gregor Samsa have been: oh meow meow Gregor, woke up as a giant beetle?, wah wah wah, get over it! Glitzy American Quilty got your stodgy European knickers in a twist? Queering up your little knee-socked Lo? Oh boo-hoo-hoo.

But let’s not jump to conclusions; destiny is elastic; any inflexible allegiance to freewill is, I considered the other day, just another way to pretend you’re not immortal. Carter adds that “these irrefutable truths taint the delicate, gentle group of you, who upon us exude as a whole a gentle essence…and bitchin’ determinism.” .  And lest we forget, Cancers are the zodiacal mother substance.

Our in-depth and ongoing study into the complex nature of our subject, Johannes Göransson, has preoccupied  much of our creative, intellectual, and occult energies over the course of the past 2 months, but the time has come to share our findings and de-hound. Due to the shock and awe we’re certain these revelations will impose upon the Montevidayan readership, we shall mete it out over the course of the next 48 hours or so, allowing you to absorb it gradually while still making some time to take a surf lesson or occupy Wells Fargo in whatever town you currently find yourself. Below we offer a preview, perhaps even an outline (we’ll see how I feel after surfing), with some multimedia treats, and teasers, to blaze our astrotail.

Johannes Göransson, THIS IS YOUR LIFE

First quarter moon             First quarter moon                         First quarter moon             First quarter moon                      First quarter moon             First quarter moon

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Women Under the Influence: An Interface (Part 1–Julian Assange)

by on Aug.03, 2011

It’s no small matter that the word influence derives from Astrology, since Astrology’s objective, in large part, is to elucidate the interplay of mythic characters engaged in mythic narratives, and subsequently apply those insights to the revelation of psychic material (á la, for example, Archetypal Psychology; or Freud also works (less well), et al, pick your poison, but some practice of Astrology has been influencing & informing human consciousness–at the very least–since the advent of human consciousness). As a practice, Astrology is both Socratic and Mystic in its aim to expand consciousness and its exaltation of same. I think the ancient folk knew what they were doing (“considered future generations”) when they fastened the old stories to the cosmic field–an inclusively visible, celestial overmind. Astrology, perhaps, proposed and provided the original framework for managing a collective unconscious, one timelessly reflected in the vast mythic map imprinted up there in the sky.

The word “zodiac” comes from the Greek zodiacus: “little creatures.” Horoscope (“watching hour”):  a map of the planets on the sun’s orbital plane (eclipse) at the exact time and place of one’s birth. What are the little creatures up to up there. One is born beneath a vibrating mirror of sky on which the little creatures play, one takes one’s first breath, one has a face now, is influenced and influential. Enfaced enfant. A karmic event that happens well in advance of Lacan’s discombobulated mirror, linguistic utterance, alterity, standard assessments, and so forth. I’m a doula, I’ve seen this. Like seeing in the Tiresian sense such a mirror–cosmic horizons replacing, as boundary, placental ones; a primal transcendence.

If Astrology, like Art, belongs to superstition (Latin, superstitio: “standing over in amazement; surviving; religious exaltation”), then in order to accommodate, in my own conscious assessment of reality, the existence of: the stock market, corporate personhood, wildly unbalanced distribution of global resources, the weather, “products,” “democracy,” the CIA, state of the union addresses, the fucking media (bar Amy Goodman and Democracy Now!, which I wish everyone had the wherewithal to watch or hear every day), bail-outs, wars on “drugs” & “terror,” or simply the brutal fact that our government’s chief occupation is mass fucking [moral] murder, etc etc, I have to either get extremely high, or constantly and radically re-evaluate the signifiers that determine cultural convention. Or both, which has proved a winning & recommended tactic thus far. (continue reading…)

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

by on Mar.09, 2011

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

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

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

The Ring:

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

by on Mar.01, 2011

Over at Big Other, the marvelous Tim Jones-Yelvington wrote first a response to the Bieber movie, Never Say Never, that wonderfully captures the uneasy desire the film and its subject invoke; and second, a review of sorts. He pretty much articulates my own responses to the film: euphoria, confetti!, realization.

I don’t think the Biebs’ performance of nonsexuality is as much the same-old as Tim and other critics have said — in general I think any kneejerk dismissal of repetition and difference in celebrity cycles is unfortunate — Gaga’s “just copying” Madonna, Bieber is this moment’s Backstreet Boys — it’s all the same, no it isn’t. Cintra Wilson in her essay collection A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque Crippling Disease discusses boy bands and “the unhealthy love of rock stars by little girls,” pointing to the “amorphous nonsexuality” of the Monkees as the crucial difference between then and now, where teen stars are “possessed of a mature, diabolically supercharged megasexuality.” “Now” for Wilson’s book is 2001; now, ten years later, post-Britney/Backstreet/nSync, teen pop megasexuality is pretty much boring, and Bieber’s nonerotic loving fits in well with our cultural moment of Twilight abstinence porn. In his first piece, Tim writes, “And the climax of this infomercial will be when I remember I have no sexual interest in Justin Bieber whatsoever” — and then imagines fucking Justin’s biological dad, rewriting the asexual narrative. Likewise, plenty of Bieber fans rewrite the asexual narrative in their own ways, just as Twilight fans have done.

Others are content to express romantic nonsexual desire, which tends to involve marriage — which for these girls generally means ownership. At one point in the film the camera locks in on a particular group of fangirls arguing over who’s going to marry Justin first. When one of them, obviously the most powerful in the group at least in this territory, claims it — “No, you’re not, I’m going to be Justin’s first wife” — the others shut up and sort of smile in uneasy support/defeat. If the film shows quite clearly that Justin’s priorities are, unsurprisingly, hardly romantic, it also highlights the ways in which his Beliebers are pretending. The screaming, the crying, the unhealthy love and simulation of desire: all obligatory aspects of the role of the committed and competitive megafan.

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by on Feb.14, 2011

The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords played out like postmodern fabulism–a paranoid Pynchonesque gunman (Jared Loughner) shoots several people in front of Safeway, including a girl who was born on 9/11 and a beautiful blonde congresswoman, whose astronaut husband, we were told at the time, was stranded in outer space. The event externalized the fictive hysterical realism we associate with blatantly unreal novels by the likes of Pynchon, Delillo and others. And after the shooting, we found ourselves in a national conversation that had less to do with gun control, mental health, or nativist hysteria, than about the violent effects of language–specifically, a non-identity-based right-wing hate speech, what you might call a hate speech of ideology. This outcome was symmetrical to the origin of the attack since Loughner’s mens rea derived from a deep skepticism with language itself.

Loughner saw himself as a revolutionary and a cultural producer: his “final words” on youtube talk about revolutionary treason against a government and The Week informs us that he was a bad poet who wrote slam poems about taking the bus and showering. While his beliefs combined an incoherent stew of anarchism, schizophrenia, and tea party currency vitriol, one of his main motives was, curiously enough, a desire to stop the government’s use of grammar as a mind control device. Obviously it’s unwise to ascribe a political ideology to someone as mentally damaged as Loughner, but what I found immediately curious about Loughner’s linguistic views is how much they resembled many things that left-wing avant-garde academic poets take for granted. Loughner, for example, believed that language was both fundamentally arbitrary (his enmity with Giffords began, miraculously enough, in August of 2007, when he asked her: “What is government if words have no meaning?”) and also a hegemonic exertion of systematic power (“The government is implying mind control and brain wash on the people by controlling grammar”). These views are either reprehensible or insane when stated by Loughner–and the former instance is not that substantively different from high theory’s anti-foundationalist take on signification and the latter is one of the central arguments of language poetry–that when an author uses language in a conventional way, he subjugates the reader with an invidious control.
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The Grand Piano

by on Feb.10, 2011

[Here’s a version of a talk Joyelle and I wrote for the panel “Small Presses with a Mission” at the AWP; it was performed by the Notre Dame graduate students, Carina Finn and Jiyoon Lee.]

The Grand Piano, or, the Spectre of Action Books, an Autobiography

1. We started Action Books in 2005 because we were reading a lot poetry we loved and we didn’t see it represented in contemporary American poetry. We didn’t like where American poetry was at: we did not feel part of the Official American Verse Culture, but we felt nearly as alienated from Official Experimental Verse Culture, and we certainly didn’t feel that the solution would be to hybridize the two, to get a single official verse culture.

2. We were interested in gothed-up spectacles, grotesque fantasia, unhealthy bodies, spasmodic bodies, bodies that jerked like dolls, epileptic bodies that performed their fits in strange outfits and B-movie scenarios. We were interested in art and media. We were interested in disability theory and translation theory (We wrote a manifesto of “The Disabled Text”, which didn’t win us too many friends. We lost our hearing.). We were interested in kitsch and decadence. We were interested in the energies and upheavals of the historical avant-garde, but not so much the formalist orthodoxies that they had become. We were interested in all those tasteless dimensions of art that poets of the official verse cultures seemed so eager to condemn and ridicule. We were interested in the sublime art that both these poetries seemed scared to touch. We were interested in total art.

3. Ugh.

4. We were ridiculous. We were heroic. (We were antiheroic. We were ridiculous.)

5. We enacted an ambient violence in the balloon rooms and with wreckage posters. (After Katrina, we watched refugees riding in Army buses like prisoners, and prisoners riding in school buses. Traffic stopped for these convoys as for an army of Jackie Kennedies. At the front of the white homecoming parade, a white drum major. At the front of the black homecoming parade, a black drum major. The white homecoming court wore tuxedos and gowns. The black homecoming court wore business suits.) After Katrina, we discovered stray dogs in the streets of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

6. We gave them names like Culture, War and History.
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Media Bleeds Through Apertures: Necropastoral, Pornography and Insectoid Psychosis

by on Jan.25, 2011

Found out about Peggy Ahwesh’s wonderful “Color of Love” from HTML Giant a couple of days ago. You can see it here at World Picture.

I think this piece is quite beautiful; it reminds me of the quote I from Bakhtin’s “Rabelais and His World (I posted it a couple of days ago):

Contrary to modern canons, the grotesque body is not separated from the rest of the world. It is not a closed, completed unit; it is unfinished, outgrows itself, transgresses its own limits. The stress is laid on those parts of the body that are open to the outside world, that is, the parts through which the world enters the body or emerges from it, or through which the body itself goes out to meet the world. This means that the emphasis is one the apertures or the convexities, or on various ramifications and offshoots: the open mouth, the genital organs, the breasts, the phallus, the potbelly, the nose.

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Citizens of the Necropastoral: Lady Lazarus and Kubla Kahn

by on Jan.20, 2011

This pose post is a continuation of my thinking about necropastoral and Plath, with a shout out to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I use the term necropastoral to highlight the fact that the pastoral is always unnatural in all the senses of that word (artificial, perverse). In its classical form, the pastoral is a kind of membrane on the urban, an artificial, counterfeit, impossible, anachronistic version of an alternative world that is actually the urban’s double, contiguous, and thus both contaminatory and ripe for contamination, a membrane which, famously, Death (and Art) can easily traverse (Hence, Et in Arcadia Ego).

The famous poem “Lady Lazarus” theatrically demonstrates the fact that Death is both a reversible, traversable membrane and the point at which the body is revealed to be not so much animated by the soul but diabolically re-animated, as the successive stunt-deaths of Lady Lazarus make clear. Rather than natural, the body is an Artwork, and so, famously, is “Dying.” The addressees should “Beware” Lady Lazarus not only because she “eat[s] men like air” but because she represents unnatural Art, Art outside natural laws, Art as total artifice. The repetition of “Beware” is a direct illusion to the kind of Art-Ban conceived at the end of Coleridge’s “Kubla Kahn”:
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Andy Warhol as the Angel of Anachronism

by on Jan.07, 2011

Marilyn Monroe and Charlie McCarthy

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

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Messy Kitsch (again)

by on Nov.18, 2010

People still seem confused what I mean by “kitsch,” fore example when I talk about “atrocity kitsch” and so on. The main reason for this confusion is that most people think kitsch must mean productions of mass culture, the original “kitsch” so to speak, the cheap mass-produced art that Clement Greenberg rails against in his classic “The Avant-Garde and Kitsch.”

[That’s Lara Glenum in the picture.]

What I’m talking about most of the time is the rhetoric of kitsch as it is used in contemporary poetry. Almost constantly, people use the metaphor of comparing poetry (and other arts) to that tasteless mass-produced war scene that Greenberg thought so lowly. It’s like a whole value system is in place based on the negation of kitsch (and, perhaps even more so, movies). Modernism originally defined itself in opposition to kitsch – the mass produced landscape but, also, related “Victorian corpse language”, another form of kitsch – so it’s no wonder modern poetry still uses this rhetoric.

Kitsch is tasteless but it also has other qualities. (continue reading…)

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The Messy Fascination of Repulsion: Blackie, Basquiat, The Widow Party

by on Nov.15, 2010

Some more thoughts about “messy” aesthetics (see Adam Jameson’s comments to John’s Fort Thunder post) and the 1990s…

I often get these chain-mails on Facebook asking me for the 15 most influential albums/books/paintings etc for me. One of the most influential artistic experiences for me was going to a show with the band “Blackie” at the speedboat gallery in St Paul some time in the mid 90s. Nobody’s probably heard of them except for me and my friend Tyler, who brought me to the show because he was friends with some of the band members.

But “band” is not really correct. These were like 10-15 folks in their mid-to-late 20s who played together once or twice a year. And “played together” is not exactly correct either because they hadn’t rehearsed and while some of them seemed to know how to play their instruments, some of them didn’t, and some of them were playing strange instruments (plastic whistles, stuffed birds, their arms). The result: The squirrels bled and we heard armchairs with soft hair on them.

The star of the show was the singer, a guy dressed up as college boy – polo shirt, baseball hat etc – but it seemed to be a college boy in drag. He didn’t sing but recited poems/chants while filming himself and the rest of the band with a toy-looking video-camera. One of the songs ended with the singer repeating “We’re in Spokane/We’re in Spokane/We’re in Spokane” for several minutes while writhing – excited, sweating, possibly horny – on the floor and filming himself straight into his screaming, sweaty face. Definitely: “Body possessed by media.” Sweaty with media.
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