by Joyelle McSweeney on Nov.26, 2010
Apropos of Lucas’s comment on my Bolaño/Beuys/Nazi post below, I’d like to explain specifically how Bolaño’s short story ‘Mauricio ‘The Eye’ Silva’ figures into this theory of Art’s Evil Eye that I’m building around Bolaño’s work. I’ve written it all out in a lengthy essay (as I’ve mentioned before– I’m obsessed with this essay) in which this story plays an important role.
“Mauricio ‘The Eye’ Silva” is one of those Bolaño stories in which a narrator comes in contact with a figure who then delivers the story through a kind of ventriloquism or double speech, and then is destroyed either in the frame narrative or in the narrative itself. In this case that figure (as so often) is the title character; Mauricio ‘the Eye’ Silva is a photographer who relates to the narrator/interlocutor how he rescued two boys from an Indian brothel and fled with them to the countryside where he raised them as his children until they died in an epidemic.
In my essay, I show how ‘The Eye’ is doubly inscribed in this story as The Moon, often shown as drifting across the sky, emerging or disappearing into shadow, and casting a light-like gaze which becomes entangled in the tree; in this sense the double image of The Moon/Eye recalls the montaged image of Moon and Eye at the beginning of Chien Andalou. In that movie, Continue reading “Art’s Evil Eye: Bolaño’s “Maurico ‘The Eye’ Silva’” »
by Joyelle McSweeney on Nov.22, 2010
I’ve been working on a 40 page essay on Bolaño and how Art leaks, flows, or surges from the evil eye; I’ve been thinking of Nazi Literatures in the America as materializing the physical co-incidence of Art and evil—evil because it inverts, perverts, controverts the homologously normalizing forms of the body, society, and the text. Nazi Literatures in the Americas is a fake-textbook (fake, so already artificial and evil); at once bio- and biblio-graphical, it gives the birth and death dates for a collection of Fascist writers, synopses of their lives, a description of their careers and the fates of their writing. Their actual writing is absent. Bolaño’s short prose is frequently marked by flimsy/improbable/hasty frame narratives through which a comparably excessive main narrative spurts and flows; in Nazi Literatures in the Americas we get only the frame narratives, without the main narratives, the overproduction, the issue, the Art. In this sense we get only a set of collapsed evil eyes, with the Art drained out of them.
However, reading up on Wilfred Owen and shell-shock, I’ve come across information about the specific therapy administered to him in Craiglockhart Hospital. Owen’s doctor prescribed metrical poetry writing and other art activities to help his shell-shocked patients re-ordinate themselves to society’s temporality. Here is Brock’s description of shell-shock, as quoted in scholar Meredith Martin’s essay “Therapeutic Measures: The Hydra and Wilfred Owen at Craiglockhart War Hospital.”(Modernism/modernity, Volume 14, Number 1, January 2007 ):
The shell-shock patient is out of Time altogether. If a “chronological,” he is at least not a
historical being. Except in so far as future or past may contain some memory or prospect
definitely gratifying, or morbidly holding him, he dismisses both. He lives for the moment,
on the surface of things. His memory is weak (amnesia), his will is weak (aboulia),
he is improvident and devoid of foresight. He is out of Space, too; he shrinks from his
immediate surroundings (geophobia), or at most he faces only certain aspects of it; he is
a specialist à Outrance. (from Brock’s postwar volume Health and Conduct, p. 146.) Continue reading “Bolaño, Owen, Shell Shock, and Beuys, and the Charisma of Nazis” »
by Joyelle McSweeney on Nov.03, 2010
“The evil eye, which is nothing in itself, exists in its lethal traces or effects as a form of iteration that arrests time—death/chaos—and initiates a space of intercutting that articulates politics/psyche, sexuality/race. It does this in a relation that is differential and strategic rather than originary, ambivalent rather than accumulative, doubling rather than dialectical.” [55/6]
This “evil eye” is evil because it has rejected its perch as the king of the senses and “initiates a space of intercutting”—as good a gloss on the function of the eye wound at the opening of Chien Andalou as any. For indeed, to view that film for the first time is to be initiated into just such an “space of intercutting”, of bold and gratuitous montage that exists in the slash mark, the mark of violence that, in the Surrealist project, links “politics” to “psyche”, “sexuality” to “race”. The slash mark of montage also fulfills all the first terms in Bhaba’s sequence; it establishes a voltaic differential, marks a literal ambivalence (the join that sunders), and it doubles—envisions an ‘or’ that is really a kind of impossible ‘and’.
by Joyelle McSweeney on Oct.11, 2010
Johannes used the term ‘ambient violence’ to discuss Ronaldo Wilson’s book a few posts back, but actually I applied that phrase in a breakfast-table discussion of his book A New Quarantine Will Take My Place and I’d like to discuss what I meant by that.
We live in an environment of total violence, it seems to me. Guns, trucks, carcinogens, sweatshop clothing, “The tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants,” predator drones, gay suicides, fraking, PTSD, gun violence in Chicago, corporations are persons, guns want to be free, and etc. As in the villified[i] Bolaño story, William Burns, violence runs all around the house and then it enters the house. But at the precise point in which that story is saturated with violence, and the windows in the house start breaking apart with it as in some horror flick, the supersaturation causes the material of violence to attach at random to various surfaces. Specifically, the apparent agent of violence becomes its victim. The victim-characters become murderous and throw the violence back. They who had been the target-receptacles of violence become mediums of violence (the media of violence). The body, the house, the girlfriend, the other girlfriend, the dogs, the narrator, the bodypolitic keeps twitching and switching sides within violence’s tidal, vital erratic currents.
Sarah Palin: Beauty must be convulsive or it shall not be.
Continue reading “A New Quarantine Will Take My Place, or, Ambient Violence, or, Bringing it All Back Home” »
by Joyelle McSweeney on Oct.07, 2010
“Furthermore, when we speak of the word “life,” it must be understood we are not referring to life as we know it from its surface of fact, but that fragile, fluctuating center which forms never reach. And if there is still one hellish, truly accursed thing in our time, it is our artistic dallying with forms, instead of being like victims burnt at the stake, signaling through the flames.” The Theatre and Its Double, Preface.
This quote has always stymied me because, first of all, I like to dally with forms, and, given that Artaud has a lot to say about the material requirements of the Theater of Cruelty, it seems that he does, too. Rereading this quote through the lens of the Body Possessed by Media, however, I see a more undecidable image. That which is just a form, or just a surface of fact, is a dead thing, part of the debris of modern culture Artaud diagnoses elsewhere. The role of the artist is to be “like victims burnt at the stake, signaling through the flames.” This final image interests me on two levels. First ,because it seems to draw on a cinematic image of Joan of Arc d from the Dreyer film in which Artaud performed, and, on some level, predicts its disintegration in the cupboard of a Norwegian mental asylum where the only extant print was recovered in 1981. More importantly to my argument, we truly have the mediumicity of the body in extremis in this image. The body is burnt, made a victim in perfect, ritualistic theatrical event. The body is burnt by the flames which then form a screen, a medium through which the body signals, and of course some kind of life force is signaling through the body at that moment. At the same time, the entire image of the body, stake, flames is an emblem through which the life force signals. And, syntactically, the body itself is signaling through the medium of flame. It is flaming. Supersaturated. Supermediumistic. It’s the signal.
A flaming creature.
And what kind of force is doing this signaling? Only one which is itself like a victim at the stake—fragile, fluctuating. Vulnerable (etym: Latin: vulnus: wound). But as I’ve demonstrated elsewhere (in my gaga stigmata piece), the wound is the ultimate medium, the ultimate site of the body possessed by media, revealing a spectacular surface through which a force of “pure” media can flow.
by Joyelle McSweeney on Aug.30, 2010
I’ve just begun reading the “new” Roberto Bolaño short story collection The Return, which includes one of my favorite stories of his, “The Prefiguration of Lalo Cura”, of which more in a future post.
What fascinates me about Bolano is his leaking, improbably proliferant and then unpredictably attenuated narratives. Like saints’ bodies or putrefying corpses, these leaking textual bodies issue two twin substances: literature and youth.
Literature itself has magic and improbable qualities in these stories. In Nazi Literature in the Americas, the Fascists copy themselves over in literature, so that an account of their genealogy is equivalent to an account of their literary output. In Distant Star, the Fascist pilot-poet writes airplane poems in the sky [NB: it transpires that this invention of Bolaño’s appears to be an inversion of the anti-fascist poet Raúl Zurita’s heroic real-life ploy of petitioning Pinochet’s Air Force to skywrite poems, a proposal that made it high up the chain of command before being swatted down. Zurita’s project was itself an inversion of the military’s own project of dumping the bodies of their victims into mountains and oceans from airplanes—of which more in Action Books’s new publication Song for his Disappeared Love by Raúl Zurita, trans. Daniel Borzutzky—check it out, Bolaño fans!]. Less spectacularly but no more plausibly, the ex-pat Chilean gangster in the first story in The Return, “Snow”, has read all of Bulgakov in Russian because his Soviet girlfriend liked Bulgakov. The initial narrator of Savage Detectives hasn’t a clue about what’s going on around him, or even about literature, he says, but can rattle off literary arcana to (literally) put his workshop instructor to shame. His youth directs him to arcana, his experience of this arcana blocks out experience of the historically present “world”, and in turn ensnares him in an alternate world of literature and murder.
In the opening pages of Amulet (my absolute favorite of Bolaño’s books so far–but he seems to be writing more from beyond the grave like Cègeste)– the heroine, Auxilio Lacouture (from Montevidayo—I mean Montevideo!) introduces herself the mother of Mexican poetry not to assert an aesthetic matrilineage but because of her protective relationship to the waif-like young poets themselves:
“I am a friend to all Mexicans. I could say I am the mother of Mexican poetry, but I better not. I know all the poets and all the poets know me. So I could say it. I could say one mother of a zephyr is blowing down the centuries, but I better not. For example, I could say I knew Arturito Belano when he was a shy seventeen-year-old who wrote plays and poems and couldn’t hold his liquor, but in a sense it would be superfluous and I was taught (they taught me with a lash and a rod of iron) to spurn all superfluities and tell a straightforward story.” (1-2)
This sarabanding quote is occultly beguiling. Lacouture says more than enough, all while repeating an interdiction not to speak at all (“I’d better not.”) Her statements exist only in the subjunctive (“I could”) but remain syntactically unsaid. Meanwhile, as her narration is showing itself to be gushy and excessive, ”superfluous”, as it says everything, including its own interdiction, we get a mini-portrait of Belano (the author’s double) who leaks text and liquor (and, by implication, vomit, piss, and perhaps blood from barroom fights). That is to say, he leaks youth. And youth, too, like an unkempt story, is superfluid, fluent, “superfluous.” Both literature and youth flow or leak beyond requirement.
This kind of excess appears at the intersection of youth and writing when Lacouture describes her relationship to the young poets of Mexico City: “[….] I had a kind word for each of them. What am I saying: a word! I had a hundred or a thousand words for every one of them.” The excess of the words is twinned by the excess of the young writers:
“[T]o me they were all grandsons of López Velarde, great-grandsons of Salvador Díaz Mirón, those brave troubled boys, those downhearted boys adrift in the nights of Mexico City, those brave boys who turned up with their sheets of foolscap folded in two and their dog-eared volumes and their scruffy notebooks and sat in the cafes […]and they gave me their poems to read, their verses, their fuddled translations […]
Here beyond plausible patrilineage the boys anaphorically multiply, coming out of literature like ants surging up from woodwork. Then again, their own writing doubles and multiplies all around them—the proliferant “foolscap folded in two” ,” volumes,” “notebooks,” themselves proliferating into “poems, ” “verses,” “translations”. A kind of exponential multiplication of boys and text surge all around these pages.
At the end of this book, Lacouture renders two stunning visions which seem to twin for each other. One is of literature, spreading itself unsteadily into the future, surging and lapsing and relapsing:
“Virginia Woolf shall be reincarnated as an Argentinean fiction writer in the year 2076. Louis-Ferdinand Céline shall enter Purgatory in the year 2094. Paul Eluard shall appeal to the masses in the year 2101.
Metempsychosis. Poetry shall not disappear. Its non-power shall manifest itself in a different form.” 
This vision of literature’s ‘non-power’, which goes on for several pages, is twinned with another vision, a polar vision of the ‘ghost-children’ of Latin America marching down a valley and into an abyss:
“Their passage was brief. And their ghost-song or its echo, which is almost to say the echo of nothingness, went on marching. I could hear it marching on at the same pace, the pace of courage and generosity. A barely audible song, a song of war and love, because although the children were clearly marching to war, the way they marched recalled the superb, theatrical attitudes of love.”
In this passage, the song and the youth both leak and flow, become indistinguishable from each other, become substitutes for each other. The magical inter-persistence of both substances is evident in the final passage of the book.
“And although the song that I heard was about war, about the heroic deeds of a whole generation of young Latin Americans led to sacrifice, I knew that above and beyond all, it was about courage and mirrors, desire and pleasure.
And that song is our amulet.”
by Johannes Goransson on Aug.28, 2010
(From interview with Mexican Playboy, 2003, translated in “The Last Interview”)
Q: John Lennon, Lady Di [probably supposed to be Day?], or Elvis Presley?
Bolano: The Pogues. Or Suicide. Or Bob Dylan. Well, lets not be pretentious: Elvis forever. Elvis and his golden voice, with a sheriff’s badge, driving a Mustang and stuffing himself full of pills.