Believe the hype: Vitkauskas' A Neon Tryst

by on Feb.25, 2013

ghost image

ghost image“Everything is true,” he said. “Everything anybody has ever thought.”

— Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?


I’m always surprised that in 2013, there’s still a strain of cinemaphobia in some parts of academia. We’ve all heard the by-now well-worn arguments. Movies make us passive. Movies are the Roman bread-circuses of our time. The image is by its very nature oppressive, etc. There’s a deeply conservative strain of argument behind some of this thinking. We see the fear of the image in Plato, for example, where all things are appearances, false images that are nothing but debased forms of the true Concept. An image is doubly evil in this worldview since it is really the shadow of a shadow.

In contrast, there has always been a counter-tradition that sees images as additions, as surplus. And the lack of ground beneath the feet of the Image is really the lack of ground below our own feet.

Derrida used to say film and photography revealed something that had always been the case anyway — the world is full of ghosts. We’re ghosts to ourselves and others are ghosts to us. The fear of Image is often linked to the fear of anti-foundationalism. In this sense, all films are ghost stories.


What is Lina Vitkauskas’ A Neon Tryst? A meeting place under a neon sign? A meeting place between poet and film, under the light of the marquee? Three movies are involved: Antonioni’s L’Eclisse, Frankenheimer’s Seconds, and Bergman’s Wild Strawberries.


The poems aren’t about the films in any literal way. Instead, the poems do something more interesting, more ambitious. They capture what I imagine to be a fairly universal and yet unusual experience. You fall asleep on the couch while watching a movie or TV show. You wake up around two or three in the morning. You have a sense of intense lateness, even if you aren’t sure what time it is. It feels like no one else in your house or apartment building or town or city is awake. You can feel their sleep around you.

The room is dark except of the TV screen. You see the images dance around and try to make some sense of them. (continue reading…)

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Lina Ramona Vitkauskas’ review of The Fassbinder Diaries

by on Nov.21, 2013

imagesLina Ramona Vitkauskas posted a fascinating review of The Fassbinder Diaries the other day on her blog. I really like the way she relates the book to film theory and to specific qualities in Fassbinder films. Her excellent book of poems entitled A Neon Tryst, which I reviewed here a few months ago, is also about film, using the medium as a way of conjuring further poetic ghosts…

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"the beauty of the act": Pop Corpse and Haute Surveillance

by on Aug.05, 2013


All profoundly original art looks ugly at first     — Clement Greenberg

Two books I’ve been reading and rereading this summer have been Johannes Göransson’s Haute Surveillance and Lara Glenum’s Pop Corpse, and in many ways the two books go together. They share certain sympathies, certain styles. If they were movies, they would make a great double-feature. In Memphis, there’s a porn theater, a decaying relic from the 70s, called Paris Theater. It brought in a diverse clientele because of its location between an “artsy” neighborhood and a “bad” neighborhood: crack addicts, tattoo artists, philosophy and English and art students, skinny junkies, and young punk couples. I can imagine such a double-feature playing at exactly such a place.

They are both truly hybrid works, not simply a “hybrid” of different schools of poetry. Glenum’s Pop Corpse brings to mind some of the more daring elements of the art world: Cindy Sherman’s Gothic, carnival-esque works, Paul Thek’s meatiness, Matthew Barney’s monumentality, the high-wire acts of certain performance artists (Marina Abramovic, the Russian Voina group), Paul McCarthy’s sense of bizarre, repulsive hilarity. In fact, Glenum’s blend of excess and theatricality is closer in spirit to certain sections of the art world than to much of the contemporary American poetry scene, and I can’t help but suspect that admirers of Thek and/or Sherman and/or McCarthy would understand her work better than some of the her fellow experimental poets (some who, because she so thoroughly does not fit into the currently dominant Language Writing /Flarf/Conceptual mode, simply don’t know how to approach her work).

Like many of those artists mentioned above, there is an element of creative ecstasy in Pop Corpse, and, like them, it’s an ecstasy laced with horror and confusion. As the Sea Witch says, “I perch on heaven / habitually / Pig-sized / nipples.” The entire poem/play takes place on “floating islands of garbage” — the “floating islands” implying a beauty and serenity that “garbage” brutally undercuts.


Haute Surveillance is also hybrid. It is infused with film both in style (montage, tableaux) and reference (Blue Velvet, The Wizard of Oz, mumble-core, the character of “the Starlet”). The spirit of Lynch and Godard and Zulawski especially haunt this work, directors who create films that steadfastly refuse to offer us a privileged bird’s eye view of their projects — directors who immerse us in a world, not offer one up as a representational object. Weekend, Made in USA, Inland Empire, Mulholland Drive, Szamanka, On the Silver Globe: these are films that don’t allow for the luxury (and it is a luxury) of distance. So too with Göransson’s book. “Of all the movies I made with the Starlet,” the narrator says, “my favorite was our mumble-version of Hiroshima Mon Amour. Or the Jacobean piece we filmed in a shooting range. The clothes I wore were positively repulsive by the time she was finished with me.”

Of course, Göransson follows a long line of poets who have been fascinated by film. Frank O’Hara is the most obvious example of a poet engaged with the silver screen (or, in our age, the digital screen). And Artaud loved the Marx brothers. But in the past few decades a serious vein of cinemaphobia has crept into the American poetry scene. Part of this is the influence of Language writing. Despite its revolutionary ardor, it had a surprisingly conservative take on the Image, considering it to be empty, false, hollow, a lie. (There were several exceptions to this view: Palmer, Hejinian, Waldrop, etc.) It’s a view that goes all the way back to Plato, at least, as can be seen in the allegory of the cave where concept is plentitude and beings and images are shadows and falsehoods.

Related to this austerity is poetry written in the more mainstream, lyrical mode. As Göransson has pointed out in various blog posts and interviews, and as I’ve heard several others poets claim too through the years, in some workshops an image must be “earned.” It must fit in with the general pattern and be conducive of an overall meaning. Interestingly, the austerity policies of certain Language poets and the fear of inflation in less experimental poetry have more than a little in common.


But an alternate take on the Image sees it not as a false representation of a real object or event, but a new creation, an addition. This is the view of the Stoics, Deleuze, Warhol (as implied by his “Factory” of images), Godard (“cinema is everything”), and Lewis Carroll. Göransson shares this approach. As the narrator writes, “Ever since I was brought to this goo-goo nation, I’ve trafficked in images. About photography, I love the machinery. I can’t understand any of it. It’s like the inside of a woman’s cunt: fascinating and intricate. And gives birth to millions of childrenchildren.” Here, image is a multiplier, not a shadow-play for dupes.

As the influence Language writing wanes, I suspect that this cinemaphobia will drift away. One of the most thrilling books of poetry last year was Lina ramona Vitkauskas’s Neon Tryst, a collection very different from Göransson’s, but which is also evocative of the spectral, haunting dimension of film. And Rauan Klassnik, one of the most brilliant poets around today, writes poetry that appears to be highly informed by the language of cinema, with odd edits, mini-narratives, and a materialist religiosity that seems to stem as much from Pasolini and Buñuel as Bataille.

There is another link between Glenum and Göransson’s two new books, and that is how they are both books about events. While reading them, I kept thinking back on Monsieur Oscar in Leos Carax’s Holy Motors. When the metaphysical performer is asked why he goes on, he answers that it is because of the “beauty of the act.” Both of these books are filled with beautiful (and horrific, and startling) acts, and these acts are related to art-making, art-construction.

As the Smear says in Pop Corpse, “I make a spasmatic pose for the penal colony. I wear a gas mask for the finale. The tourists are allowed to take my photographs if they offer me some food.” And as the narrator in Haute Surveillance writes, “Together we are working in a new medium: sweat clothes. We’re interested in mediumicity. In one sweat cloth we see an image of an artist’s body after a car crash: all ornamental. In another we see a dark lady who may be our lady of the video malaise.” These books are from the Warholian Factory. And 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.

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New books by Mark Tursi and Lina Ramona Vitkauskas

by on Jan.05, 2013

Hi just wanted to link to a couple of fine books that I recently blurbed since I approach blurbs kind of like mini-reviews.

A Neon Tryst by Lina Ramona Vitkauskas (Shearsman Books)

“The ‘trysts’ of Lina Vitkauskas’s book are shot through with ‘neon’—that is, they are saturated with chemicals, textures, atmosphere, and media. According to this synthetic cosmology, ‘In an affair / arms laugh, / they become sheer.’ That is to say, they—arms, bodies, weapons, trysts—become both medium and adjective, both see-through and material. As in Antonioni’s great films, the body is clothes and the clothes are part of the visual atmosphere. A dress moves through a toxic landscape, or a ‘toxic love.’ The ‘trysts’ are movies, fantasies, art. Vitkauskas is ‘surreal, primitive, impressionist, whatever.'”

Brutal Synecdoche by Mark Tursi (Astrophil Press)

“‘I am here to hustle you,’ writes Mark Tursi in his terrific second book, BRUTAL SYNECDOCHE. In his meditations on culture, identity, religion, language (which one cannot avoid any more than one can avoid piss in a swimming pool, according to the first poem of the book), Tursi writes in a very casual tone, but the imagery is incredibly intensive. The result is a kind of ‘hustling’: the poems not only tug the reader along, but are already hustling themselves, already at conflict. As in most of these poems, there is an obscene humor at work as well in this line—the slang connotations of ‘hustling’ have to do with seduction and prostitution. But these unresolved conflicts, such as the prominent one between the sacred and profane, become the key to Tursi’s vision: ‘But hell, who cares, we’ll have a wild time later at the crematorium. Listening to the murmr and hust of dust to dust, ashes to ashes… Look there’s God’s grandeur…right underneath the lid of that coffin.’ Perhaps Tursi is a great religious poet after all. No pervert. No visionary.”—Johannes Göransson

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