Violence

"Swallowed Repulsion": Johan Jönson's Soiled Conceptualism

by on Aug.08, 2013

Johan
While offering a more nuanced perceptive affect in poetry, Cal Bedient’s recent critique of Conceptual Poetry ultimately seems to fall into a trap set up by the Conceptual rhetoric: that the difference between conceptual poetry and non-conceptual poetry is the difference between “thinking” and “reading,” between the head and the heart. Not only is this –as many people, including pro-conceptual types, pointed out in responses to Bedient’s essay – a false dichotomy, but it also prevents Bedient from putting enough pressure on the word “affect,” a term that has become a convenient catch-all word for various academic discussions. But this criticism is also a bit misplaced because it’s a binary that Conceptualism itself set up: thinkership as the opposite of readership. To read is to be stupid: overwhelmed, absorbed. To “think” is to be clean. You don’t even need to read our texts, says Kenny Goldsmith.

Instead of writing about the very academically accepted and promoted regulars among Conceptual poets, I’d rather talk about one of my favorite poets, the Swedish conceptual poet Johan Jönson, who is not only more extreme in his production than any of the American poets I’ve ever read (or thinked about) but who also really pushes me to consider “affect” very seriously, and very affectedly. Unlike Kenny Goldsmith’s hygienic thinkership model of reading, Swedish conceptual writer Johan Jönson’s work follows James Pate’s words from the other day: “because they are books of action and event, they don’t allow us lounge about on a clean, conceptual hillside, above the muck and dirt and sweat. They plunge us into it.” Jönson’s poetry is often an attack on capitalism, but one that cannot maintain the distanced stance of critique so often advocated by American experimental poetry. The poetry generates a violent ambience that explodes with capitalist urges and fears. Instead of the cool thinkership of American conceptualism, Jönson pulls the reader into an intensive zone where affect violently pulls in self and other, fantasy and reality, masculinity and masquerade.

how can i describe the shame
over my repeated poverty?

it’s hard. Maybe.
it’s possible to compare it to the repulsion.
that follows
one’s own body. that
which has become the swallowed repulsion.

(from med.bort.in)

For me Jönson’s poetry exists in that zone of “swallowed repulsion” – you have to get rid of it but you can’t. There is no epiphany, no transcendence, no critique, just a violent impossibility. But as readers we cannot make it into an easy cliff-notes “concept,” we have to plow through 1243 pages of med.bort.in; we have to try to spit out the poems but we can’t. Unlike Goldsmith’s books you don’t have to read [supposedly, I actually find them a quite vivid reading experience], Jönson gives us:

An author who cannot read his own text.

*
A book that cannot be reduced.

*
A book that has become the day, the days’ days.

*

This book’s devouring.

(continue reading…)

22 Comments more...

Second Language Writers

by on Aug.06, 2013

I’ve written and thought much about the act of writing in a second language (like I am doing right now), and I found this article by Costica Bradatan in the NY Times very interesting.

In a certain sense, then, it could be said that in the end you don’t really change languages; the language changes you. At a deeper, more personal level, writing literature in another language has a distinctly performative dimension: as you do it something happens to you, the language acts upon you. The book you are writing ends up writing you in turn. The result is a “ghostification” of sorts. For to change languages as a writer is to undergo a process of dematerialization: before you know it, you are language more than anything else. One day, suddenly, a certain intuition starts visiting you, namely that you are not made primarily out of flesh anymore, but out of lines and rhymes, of rhetorical strategies and narrative patterns. Just like the “book people,” you don’t mean much apart the texts that inhabit you. More than a man or a woman of flesh and blood, you are now rather a fleshing out of the language itself, a literary project, very much like the books you write. The writer who has changed languages is truly a ghost writer – the only one worthy of the name.

Having done all this, having gone through the pain of changing languages and undergone the death-and-rebirth initiation, you are sometimes given – as a reward, as it were – access to a metaphysical insight of an odd, savage beauty.

Bradatan’s “ghostification” might not be so different from what I’ve been calling “kitsch”; certainly the “savage” aspect of second language might jive with my recent post about art and violence; but mostly I think it’s the point above that interests me, suggesting language functioning what we in recent post here have called “ambient[ly].”

14 Comments more...

Corean Music #2: Nancy Spero, Basquiat and Zurita

by on Aug.06, 2013

I realize there might be objections to my interest in the connection between violence and art, in my favoring of fascination, absorption and allure over the kind of critical distance that has been the hallmark of most academic writing about poetry for quite some time (and especially the kind of “experimental poetry” favored in the academy). More importantly, as I mentioned in my first post, there is a wider political context for Savage-Landor’s encounter with “Corean music,” one that suggests the complexity of the relationship between violence and art: Savage-Landor is an imperial European visiting a foreign land in “the Orient,” that site of so much of what we view as Beauty (silk, opium, spices etc), and one like Korea in particular which has so often been colonized and abused. Art is of course involved in this violence too. There’s no use pretending it isn’t.

For the whole thing, go to the Poetry Foundation web site.

Comments Off on Corean Music #2: Nancy Spero, Basquiat and Zurita more...

"Corean Music": Göransson on art and violence

by on Aug.01, 2013

Somewhat surprisingly, I’m guest-blogging over at the Poetry Foundation Blog this month. Please feel free to respond here because they don’t have a comment section, I believe.

Excerpt:

This shattering artistic experience seems more public than the kind of private experience generally portrayed in contemporary poetic discourse. According to a lot of discussions of contemporary poetry, the readers are complete agents who “access” the interiority of the artwork (something you find by transcending the stuff, the language, the metaphors, etc.) of the poem. Or we fail to access the meaning, either because the artwork fails to make itself available to us, or because we are not in possession of the proper learning. All of this takes pace in the private study of the ideal, well-educated reader who has learned how to close read—or “access”—the poem’s meaning.

In “Corean music,” Savage-Landor has to struggle to gain control by learning its conventions and gaining some distance from the work, and that seems like the ethical thing to do as an anthropologist. But as an allegory about the experience of art, I find that it’s the murderous impact before learning to appreciate the artwork, before gaining that distance from the music that is the most intense, that gives the best example of how art affects me. While gaining distance makes the artwork intellectually accessible to him, it is when he’s most bewildered by the art that he’s also most close to it. This certainly is a different model, where affect takes you out of the private intellectual sphere of the study and into the circuit of the foreign.

3 Comments more...

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

by on Jul.31, 2013

Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning

 

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

tim jones-yelvington

“TimTin” (Tim Jones-Yelvington)

 

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

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

ee cummings:

Jimmie’s got a goil

goil

goil

Jimmys got a goil and

she coitinly can shimmie

 

when you see her shake

shake

shake

when you see her shake a

shimmie how you wish that you was jimmie.

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

 

talk about your Sal-

Sal-

Sal-

talk about your Salo

-mes but gimmie Jimmie’s gal.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

11 Comments more...

“Power Emanates from the People," or Political Allure in Brazil

by on Jul.20, 2013

There are unexpected parallels in Johannes’/Shaviro’s definition of allure from a few weeks ago to the protests still happening throughout Brazil.  Just as the secrecy of poetry rouses anxiety—leading to the benchmarks of accessibility or distance as critical antidotes—the unruliness of demonstrations continues to perplex politicians and journalists.  Few seem able to grasp an uprising with no leaders or packagable program beyond the demand for better public services.  As if to check off this blog’s keywords, the protests are often criticized for being contagious, violent, and disorderly versions of what happens in more developed nations.  The TV news cycle has been pretty much the same every night, following a “peaceful” or “festive” march with endless footage of looting and vandalism by masked youth.  When left-leaning commentators, including the President, denounce protestors’ rejection of party affiliation (and, in many cases, the entire party system), they’re likewise targeting a kind of civic disobedience and immaturity.  Yet, as in other countries, the protests grow with no end in sight precisely because they defy established politics.  Their allure has even eclipsed the spectacle of soccer, that opium of the masses, as hundreds of thousands march against exorbitant spending on the World Cup.

A phrase in the Brazilian Constitution, of all things, might shed light on the protests’ allure:  “Power emanates from the people” (“O poder emana do povo”).  If Shaviro thus argues that allure spreads “in the very flows and encounters of everyday existence,” the etymology of “emanate” as that which “flows out” hints at the extent to which Brazilians’ unrest is as seductive and enigmatic as art.  As everyone likes to point out, social media has revitalized this emanation, allowing anyone to physically invoke the masses.  But there’s no denying the power—and, more importantly, the mystification of power—in the congregation of bodies themselves.

Takeover of the National Congress in Brasilia

(continue reading…)

Comments Off on “Power Emanates from the People," or Political Allure in Brazil more...

Francis Bean Cobain, The Death of Riot Porn and the Gurlesque

by on Jun.29, 2013

There’s a fantastic Gurlesque issue out on the great Swedish on-line journal Ett Lysande Namn, full of great writing by people like Viktor Johansson, Aylin Bloch Boynukisa and Sara Tuss Efrik. Most of it is Swedish (but I plan to somehow get it translated) but my essay is in English. The title – “I”m wearing my dad’s pajamas to the suicide party” – is from a Francis Bean Cobain tweet (she’s also in the essay).

Here’s the beginning:

“I’m wearing my dad’s pajamas to the suicide party”: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE GURLESQUE

Dear Justin Bieber,

Who put that mask on your face? Does it hurt? Can you get it off? Can you get it off? Are those your real eyes? Who designed the mask? Did it cost a million dollars? Is it made of wool? Someone had posted the photograph on facebook with the heading: “The death of riot porn?” Do you think this was a reference to Pussy Riot, who wore those masks during their protests? What do you think of Pussy Riot? What do you call that phenomena when a cluster of young girls scream and chase you around? Do they riot against your body? Did they pull that mask over your pretty white face?

I’m not joking. There is something porny about those girls. There’s something deathy about those girls. That must be why they frighten so many people. They are totally “under the influence.” They have no human core, no soul: they are all clothes, make-up. Violence moves through them. Like in all those Japanese horror movies. Young girls are so violent with you, you must be constantly hurting, smarting, aching. Do they hurt you with letter openers? Do they re-enact the French Revolution with your body in Tokyo? Why do I always think of letter openers when I think about you in the bathtub? Why are the girls always leading the French Revolutions?

Why are they always listening to New Order while the revolution is filmed? Why am I so sad? Should I ask Freud? Does it have something to do with the riot porn? With the death of riot porn? Isn’t there always something deathy about riots? About porn?

Have you read that poem “Primrose” by Chelsea Minnis?…

Comments Off on Francis Bean Cobain, The Death of Riot Porn and the Gurlesque more...

What is "The Prose Poem"?

by on Jun.25, 2013

I was thinking… in my past two posts, I have referred to but not really discussed the “Prose Poem.” Does anybody talk about this form/term anymore? Is this important to anybody?

It seems like there was a lot of talk about it in the 90s and early 00s. I remember reading the journal “The Prose Poem” (edited by Peter Johnson) back in the 90s because it was engaged with a certain surrealist sensibility which I obviously also was interested in. And it provided a kind of “hybrid” space that was neither the official quietist aesthetic of MFA programs or the official/Language aesthetic of PhD study. The big influences in this journal were James Tate, Russell Edson and Charles Simic. But it would also publish, say Maxine Chernoff, who’s kind of an odd poet that doesn’t really fit in with schools and lineages.

I think it was probably very influential – and by “it” I might mean this notion of the prose poem or the official journal itself – creating not only a space where prose and poetry could interact but also a space where translation was valued. Afterall, this prose poem was largely derived from Max Jacob and other foreign writers. It seems to have generated a whole host of writers from my generation (Zach Schomburg, Mathias Svalina and others).

I occasionally read this journal back in the day but I felt put off by a certain goofiness that struck me as moderating. Edson was a big influence, but many influenced by Edson lost something really important about Edson: the utter lack of interiority, the saturating violence, the merciless absurdity. In many prose poem writers it seemed Edson’s move was coupled with an indie-rock emotional register (goofy, wistful, whimsical).

My own interest/emotional register doesn’t really fit in with that zone; and also the formal movement within the poems seemed too set. For example, I was interested/inspired by Basquiat – and I wanted to bring that mania, that horror vacui to the poems. That’s in part what drew me to the prose poem (and does still I guess on some level) – it allowed me to see the page as a near-canvas, which might consist of a discarded door or box.

to-repels-ghosts.jpg!Blog

It’s interesting (if only to myself) that my distinction here is what other genres/media the prose poems “bring into” poetry – indie rock vs painting.

But as far as writing goes, I first started writing poetry in large part from reading Rimbaud’s prose poems and Lautremont’s Maldoror, Burroughs and the Beats, and Genet’s baroque theatricality, and that kind of convulsiveness has always stuck with me. By the time I came across the Prose Poem journal I was also reading Aase Berg’s guinea pigs and Ann Jaderlund’s necropastorals:

The big valley is a vast mother-of-pearl mirror. There walks the large dead swan in her dead shroud. And there walks the mother-of-pearl children. Or the fragile foundling clumps. That grow out of the virgin mother’s throat. They led the swan into a forest and placed beautiful white stones of mother-of-pearl on her back. Go now and eat that which you have taken from the swans. Then one ran up and cut a branch from the tree and grabbed a burning branch and stuck it into her throat. And scrubbed her both up top and down below. Until the swan’s flesh fell off in beautiful heavy clumps. For some time the swan lay in the bushes and slept. And black merchants came riding on black mother-of-pearl horses. Then they took the swan and carried her away.

(from Jaderlund’s Soon Into the Summer I Will Walk Out, published in Typo 7)

Jaderlund’s suite is actually a kind of montage of biblical tales written down in the 15th century, a kind of proto-prose-poetry based on Swedish translations of foreign materials (Christianity being of course a foreign text itself).

*
Fast forward a little bit: In 2006, Peter Connors published the anthology PP/FF. The abbreviations are for Prose Poem and Flash Fiction. Peter didn’t want to come up with a term like “hybrid” to actually bring them into unison, but wanted to allow them to be unsynthesized, and I liked that. Because this anthology includes not so much “prose poetry” but poetry in prose, and poetic prose etc.

Peter writes this in his intro:

In 2006, it is fair to say that prose poetry is a vital Amreican genre: there are prose poetry journals, anthologies, university courses, and attendant experts. Perhaps classifying it as a stale genre is too harsh, however, in compiling this anthology it became obvious that many writers have felt shunned from traditional communities of poetry and prose – including prose poetry – for consciously resisting genre expectations. To wit, prose poetry should not contain too much narrative or it becomes fiction; flash fiction should follow a narrative arc or it risks fragmentation to the point of becomign prose poetry; flash fiction should stay within specific, albeit arbitrary word counts; prose poetry must not utilize line break; surrealism and humor is acceptable, but topicality is not…

Here Connor’s point is similar to my own – that a genre that was born out of dissatisfaction with genre expectations had generated its own conventions.

*
Before that anthology, Peter edited Double Room with Mark Tursi, which published some section of my book Dear Ra back in 2003 (I wrote the book in 2000-2001 while going crazy). In this book I used the epistolary form – which I got from letters of serial killers and crazy consumers – with a kind of surrealism and also Ted Berrigan (b/c I loved his manic energy).

*

It struck me that in my past two entries I dealt with “prose poetry” – but these are great examples of prose poetry that is not so much part of this convention as poems that form a space where various media and genre convulse without definitely being synthesized into Prose Poetry. For example, Joyelle’s Salamandrine is categorized as “Fiction”, but her virtuosic sentences are charged with the kind of texture one might expect from the most saturated poetry. In James’s Fassbinder Diaries, the “prose poem” seems like it is constantly being harassed not just by film but the narrative urge/push of novels. This seems true of a lot of things I’ve been reading recently: Aylin Bloch Boynukisa’s My mouth is full of teeth and time, Under Siege: Four African Cities (Documenta 11;Plathform4), Sara Shamloo’s Gloria, Emma Lundmark’s Hans Fru Judith, Uche Nduka’s Ijele, or Moldovian comic book artist Neurotrip’s work:

image29

But at the same time, what makes Negroni’s Mouth of Hell and di Giorgio’s History of Violets so amazing is in part a kind of “return” to the prose poem at its purest form – Baudelaire, Rimbaud etc.

*

So to sum things up: I wonder if “prose poetry” has any value anymore – As a form? As a context? As an idea? As a lineage?

As usual I’m suddenly drawn to it because it seems dead, anachronistic – and the opposite of the notion of “American Hybrid” that is so powerful these days.

30 Comments more...

"I Play with Death": The Gothic Prose Poetry of Negroni, Di Giorgio, Berg and McSweeney

by on Jun.21, 2013

It’s interesting to hear again and again various people complain that poetry is dead or take credit for finally killing off poetry, or try to defend poetry, try to revive it (or do all of these things as once, as the Conceptualists). Capitalism killed poetry a long time ago, just as it is killing us. Poetry is a plague ground, and we are its bugs. Colorful bugs that make a crackling sound when you step on them.
runwayboy

Most poets out there it seems want to be “innovative” and “experimental.” They want to be the future, to be progressive, to lead the way to a robust future by teaching themselves “critical thinking,” “critical distance.” They want to demystify, reveal, uncover, subvert. They think they can critique themselves out of this slaughterhouse. They want to be strong and rigorous like Ron Silliman, not “soft” or “candy” or kitsch or decadent.

Too bad, because that’s where poetry’s at. We’ve always worn the shitty ghost costumes and the glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth.
mermaid
It’s also not unreasonable that so many poets these days seem to want to distance themselves from violence and ornaments. Afterall we have drones and torture. So it’s nice to think of the artwork as “democratic” – the reader and the writer make it together, instead of like the governments and CEOs that act alone and dictatorially.

But art is inextricably bound up in violence.
It does violence to the reader and the reader does violence to the text.

So it both is and is not a paradox that a bunch of books and texts that have come out recently that have revived that now-fairly-dull genre of the PROSE POEM not by unmasking the art, by becoming anaesthetic, but precisely by becoming decadent, theatrical, pathologically manneristic, extravagantly 19TH CENTURY – as in Baudelaire and Poe, Lautremont and Rimbaud – and, yes, more GOTHIC.
(continue reading…)

3 Comments more...

SOLUBLE PERSONHOOD: On (and In) Julian Assange, Leslie Scalapino, and Lucas De Lima

by on Jun.14, 2013

mermaid

A few weeks ago I wrote a play called “Dead Youth, or, the Leaks”, which is basically a knifed-up (in/per)version of The Tempest. It features characters that may or may not be Julian Assange, Henrietta Lacks, teenage Somalian ‘pirate’ Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, and a female Antoine de Saint-Exupery, all  adrift on a hijacked container ship, pulled toward Magnetic Island by mysterious currents of dark energy. But as I imagine my play, the critical factors of identity-stabilization—gender, race, aliveness or deadness, whether one is in fact a ‘real person’—are all soluble. In fact the titular character, Dead Youth, is elastically posthumous, multinational, decomposing, erotic,  multibodied, plural.

In thinking about my play, the phrase ‘soluble personhood’ came to mind… I realized that I was thinking about the possibility that what we normally demarcate as a ‘person’ might be in fact be less securely bounded. That rather than a homeland security of the self,  there might be a soluble personhood—a black-lit spectrum of ways in which one supposed ‘person’ might occupy another’s literal and spectral space, become imbricated, a coefficient, a parasite or a saint… On the most conventionally acceptable ethical pole this might be called ‘empathy’, on the most conventionally unacceptable a kind of possession or military/imperial occupation. I have been thinking about this as a model for thinking about both living in the world and the act of writing, the radical act of co-identification that is not always benign, benevolent, ethical, but which radically re-situates the space of ‘event’  in an occult, contradictory, irreal “dark” space… dark in the physics sense of that term…a site we don’t have the coordinates of, an anticause which might issue radical effects…

For me there is an (imperfect, and therefore energy-shedding) analogy for this somewhere in the matter of privacy vs secrecy as it pertains to leaks and drones. The drone is the supposed non-cause which only has effects. It moves around the planet like a leak, and then, like a dream deferred, it explodes.  Only once it has its effect is it deduced as a cause. Relatedly, the TOR-encryption system utilized by Manning and Assange is an elaborate strategy of movement and envelopment. Importantly, the encryption doesn’t encrypt the ‘secret content’ of the leak; instead, the successive onion-like layers of encryption wrap around the content and direct how the content is moved around the Internet through so many nodes and portals that its journey can’t be recreated to find the source of the leak.( Indeed, the very verb hidden in the noun ‘leak’ gestures towards this shadowy/shameful/obscene action, this movement.)

TOR-encryption is interesting to me because the content of the message is of no interest to the hackers that built this system; only the motion is, the jackets of code that distend and obscure the event of transmission and make it irreal; then, once it arrives, it lyses its content, sheds effects so, so real that it’s reality-changing. Analogously, the much vaunted territory of ‘interiority’, so important to conventional personhood and its handmaiden, literature, becomes chimerical when reconceived from a framework of solubility. One idea, one body, one gender, one ethnicity, one language contains another, another which may also be, a la Heisenberg, a nothing, until it can’t survive it anymore.

I realize one keystone for my thinking about soluble personhood is Leslie Scalapino’s Dahlia’s Iris: Secret Autobiography + Fiction¸the over-nomination of the title accurately forecasting the oversaturation of the book itself with genres, persons, plots.  A lot goes on in this busy brain of a book, including a detective plot, but I was stopped in my tracks by what happens on page 27 when the reader is suddenly given some irreal information about one of the protagonists, the Detective Grace Abe:

Grace had changed. Four years earlier a meeting of occurrences had precipitated, or suddenly there was a man who had been a marine dead who was in her. She would be running out, it would be him running. But she would never leave her body or her own mind when he was there.  He’d been Special Forces, an assassin when he was alive; she hadn’t known him but she would feel the presence of his activities, ‘ghosts of actions she had done’ which were apparently his, or hers. Though she hadn’t acted (when he had killed someone, before entering her).

First addicted to Ibogaine, a drug used by Indian hunters, causing illness of vomiting followed by elation and an utter lucidity in hunting, she’d spiraled with the marine being there erratically. Then addicted to a Peruvian drug derived from frogs, the secretion applied to burn marks on one’s chest or arms […] She changed. The marine who really was a particular unknown person, did not return.

Yet there were still flickers as if she’d known people before, whom she was now seeing. […]

 

As in the entire oeuvre of Alice Notley, here one figure is a medium for the dead but the effect is neither consistently revelatory nor tolerable, neither stable nor totally eradicable. Is Grace ‘hosting’ the marine or at war with him? She does violence to her ‘self’ in an effort to burn him out, or maybe in an effort to mimic his own drug addictions or chemical warfare in Vietnam. Thus she might be most fully ‘embodying’ the marine and accepting his occupation when she is mimicking him and using her own body to stage the event of violence against him. Scalapino’s typically charming and frustrating prose flickers across the lines, the graceful comma or the unexpected ‘or’ often doing the linking of two quite disparate or unbearable thoughts. “She would be running out, it would be him running.” As this sentence suggests, solubility and fluidity is not a lovely thing; one entity is drained, another filled, both poisoned, both killed. Everything is adulterated. Although the ‘marine’ supposedly does not return, he does somehow return as after-effects, irreal re-cognitions.

And yet, I find this passage incredibly liberating; I feel a self-re-cognition everytime I re-turn to it. This is what it feels like to be in the world, to be a figure at once perpetrating an occupation and suffering one, to be bearing in one’s ‘self’ the virtual violence of everyplace. What I buy, eat, wear, use is a violence on myself and others.  I cannot think of exceptions. Meanwhile I host a radical array of others, of ideas, images, griefs, fantasies, disappointments, which seem to occupy the part of ‘me’ that other people think of as their ‘selves’. So I’m carrying all this violence around, doing it to my ‘self’, all the time. I wish I didn’t have a self and could just be passed out in the puddle like Narcissus. It’s debriding and decomposing and sad this solubility, but sometimes often spectacular, a drug. I think of Lucas De Lima’s lucidly surreal elegy on the death of his friend, Ana Maria, by alligator attack, an irreal project of solubility which requires of occupation of the poet-space by many spectral and real and irreal bodies and species. Lucas enfigures this co-habitation when he writes:

My beak returns to Ana Maria’s throat. Feeding.

On cloudy nights when she dies again I have to perform such dives—

and

 

It is not a hacker we pursue

Or a wireless connection to bathe in

We want a waterfall in the Space we digitize together

I maximize windows when Ana Maria throws a seed at me

Keep MySpace blank for her

 

This occupation may be a consensual one on the part of the poet but it is a painful one, a grief-engorged one, an intolerable one, an unsurvivable one, as one death is transferred into the body of another, what Lucas might call ‘conviviality’, or I might call co-morbidity. We might call solubility a survival strategy for life in the Anthropocene if survival itself weren’t such a debatable goal, and if we weren’t already dead.

 

Comments Off on SOLUBLE PERSONHOOD: On (and In) Julian Assange, Leslie Scalapino, and Lucas De Lima more...

Blake Butler on Fence Books and Haute Surveillance

by on Jun.02, 2013

Blake Butler has written a column for Vice Magazine about Fence Books (and the journal), “Fence has been Reconfiguring the Literary Landscape for 15 Years.” Fence has obviously been hugely influential to contemporary poetry over the past 10-15 years.

Since 1998, Fence magazine has been independently publishing a biannual journal of prose, poetry, art, and criticism; in 2001, they began publishing several lines of innovative, ambitious books. While most magazines (this one excluded, of course) and literary journals can be dry and tedious, each issue of Fence seems to raise its own benchmark. There’s always something in there to befuddle you, to challenge the idea of what could appear on paper, to make you wonder how or why a thing was made. Fence occupies a rare place in new language, and has charged itself with the noble “mission to encourage writing that might otherwise have difficulty being recognized because it doesn’t answer to either the mainstream or to recognizable modes of experimentation.” Editor Rebecca Wolff is unique in that she doesn’t aim to control or even codify the work the press presents: the work is the work, thank God, and understanding is a product of the experience of reading, rather than a kernel to be swallowed.

Red the full thing here.

*
Blake also wrote a recent Vice review of my new book Haute Surveillance:

There’s an ecstatic kind of media collision at work in the body of language produced by Swedish-born Johannes Göransson. Over the course of six books of his own, as well as translations of major Swedish authors like Aase Berg and Henry Parland, he has assembled an incredibly volatile and feverish vision, somewhere between Artaud and Lars Von Trier, though one more interested in the awkwardness and orchestration of the profane than simply milking it. His latest work, Haute Surveillance, may also be his most provocative. Here Johannes has assembled a feverish and explicit set of images and ideas revolving around power, fetish, porn, media, violence, translation, punishment, performance, and aesthetics. Taking its title from a Jean Genet play of the same name, it’s kind of like a novelization of a movie about the production of a play based on Abu Ghraib, though with way more starlets and cocaine and semen.

Read the whole thing here.

17 Comments more...

"Why Shut Down Enjoyment?" On Drew Kalbach, Zizek, Ange Mlinko and Postmodern American Poetry

by on May.03, 2013

Over at The Actuary, Drew Kalbach has written an excellent post on response to Ange Mlinko’s review of the new Norton Anthology of postmodern poetry, finding in her rhetoric a desire to “shut down enjoyment”:

Mlinko’s review genuinely confuses me. Really, this type of rhetoric confuses me in general. Its only goal seems to be to not allow people to enjoy something. She seems to suggest, in the first paragraph, that students who are forced to purchase this book (leaving aside the agency all students have, and the availability of inexpensive used texts, etc etc) are somehow being done a disservice. But she assumes that these students will get nothing from these poems, will not enjoy these poems, because she does not enjoy these poems. More than that, she assumes these students can’t choose for themselves whether or not these poems are worthwhile; they need to be taught proper taste.

His post makes me think about another thing I recently read in Zizek’s book Violence (which I quoted a couple of days ago on a related topic):

What Nietzsche and Freud share is the idea that justice as equality is founded on envy – on the envy of the Other who has what we do not have, and who enjoys it. The demand for justice is thus ultimately the demand that the excessive enjoyment of the Other should be curtailed so that everyone’s access to jouissance is equal. The necessary outcome of this demand , of course, is asceticism. Since it is not possible to impose equal jouissance, what is imposed instead to be equally shared is prohibition.

So far, Zizek’s analysis seems to follow Kalbach’s: especially in an age of “glut,” when there’s “too much” poetry, “too much” poetry that is – inherently in the quantity – tasteless, we more than ever need prohibitions. It seems the only acceptable form of criticism in the poetry world is to stage prohibitions. Witness for example Tony Hoagland who has made a career it seems of attacking poetry that does too much (too “skittery,” too political, too extravagant etc).

But I think it’s important to be clear that those prohibitions come not just from Poetry Magazine, but also of course from “experimental poetry,” which is full of prohibitions – against “the lyric I”, against images, against this and that, against “expression,” against the poetic, against poetry itself (in the case of Conceptual Poetry) – and full of anti-kitsch rhetoric – against the “too much”, the flood of “soft surrealism”, of excess of “MFA poets” etc. Even Flarf in its jokey embrace of “bad poetry” is of course re-confirming the insistence of Taste (you just have to have enough good taste to imitate the bad taste, to know that it’s bad). In many ways, the rhetoric of experimental poetry often reminds me of Zizek’s notion of “hedonistic asceticism.”

*
Instead of all this prohibition (including the most famous one, to “ENJOY!”), in this plague ground age, I suggest bug time:

2. What model of literary time is provided by this mutating field time, this bug time, this spasming, chemically induced, methed up mutating, death time, this model of proliferant, buggered, buggy, moist, mutating, selecting, chitinous, gooey, bloated, dying time, a time defined by a spasming change of forms, by generational die-offs, by mutation, by poisoning, a dynamic challenge to continuity, and by sheer proliferation of alternatives, rather than linear succession? How would T.S. Eliot’s golden lineup of genius allstars, constantly reordering itself but still male- and human- and capital-assets- shaped, be affected by this swarm of ravening pissed-off mutant bugs out-futuring them by dying six times a summer, by having no human-shaped future at all?

(From Joyelle’s “Bug Time”)

5 Comments more...

Zizek on Tolerance and Trolls

by on May.01, 2013

I sometimes think about this passage from Zizek’s book Violence (and other places, he does famously repeat himself…):

Today’s liberal tolerance towards others, the respect of otherness and openness towards it, is counterpointed by an obsessive fear of harassment. In short, the Other is just fine, but only insofar as his presence is not intrusive, insofar as this other is not really other… In a strict homology with the paradoxical structure of the previous chapter’s chocolate laxative, tolerance coincides with its opposite. My duty to be tolerant towards the Other effectively means that I should not get too close to him, intrude on his space. In other words, I should respect his intolerance of my over-proximity. What increasingly emerges as the central human right in late-capitalist society is the right not to be harassed, which is a right to remain at a safe distance from others.

I am frequently reminded of this quotes in discussion in American poetry. It seems frequently that having a difference of opinion (no matter now meekly expressed) amounts to a gave offense, that there’s something “aggressive” or rude about expressing opinions. One becomes a “troll” by expressing one’s opinion.

I remember an angry email I received from a poet for disagreeing with her on a public blog; she wrote “this isn’t about you” and “you are from somewhere else” – as if I was being a megalomaniac foreigner (which of course might be true) by disagreeing with her on a public forum. I was hurt by that; I still think about it.

Of course, there are also these “trolls” that are repetitive and insulting in comment sections, and I find they often tend to be inherently normative (attacking people who express unconventional opinions). I used to have an “open” comment section to my last blog but stopped because I would just get tons of these hateful, thoughtless comments, so that’s why I have to approve comments to this blog (even though I seldom decline comments, and the few times I have I probably shouldn’t have). When does someone with different views become a “troll”? (Troll is of course not human, and that seems important here.)

Recently I noticed somebody wrote that Seth Oelbaum was a “troll” because he had expressed his views (in a highly performative fashion, as always) about poets he liked and didn’t like (as well as disagreeing with my ideas about “the glut”). You may disagree with him, but is he a “troll” for having strong opinions? For being too performative in the way he expresses them? Or for quite simply having opinions that differ from the common consensus?

Can we imagine a version of poetry discourse that is based on exchange or engagement with different opinions, and not on ‘tolerance’ or its phantom twin, shunning (i.e. don’t feed the troll…)?

(For the record: I totally agree with Oelbaum that Joyelle and Chelsea Minnis are two of the “top poets” in the US. But I also really like Aaron Kunin!)

11 Comments more...