[Note: I typically let these kinds of lexical slips slide, but every time I hear “man” or “mankind” as boilerplate applied to human beings (as in the title above) I can’t help but cringe and append impulsively an imaginary “[sic]” – to me the gendered, generalizing concepts “man” and “mankind” are specific to God’s lower level contract with Noah detailed below, that is, a global system of life predicated on subjugation and suffering]
In honor of the “labor day” celebrated stateside today, I want to talk about human beings and work, by way of Northrop Frye’s systematic analysis of the Bible in relation to literature, The Great Code (1981).
The preamble begins on page 75 with Frye commenting that he can’t find any consistent astrological symbolism in the Bible, aside from allusions to divination and patterns of correspondence such as the emphasis on sevens and twelves in the Book of Revelation. Frye speculates that this correspondence, at the time it was written, probably comes out of the number of days in the week and the number of planets (7), and the number of months in the year and the signs of the Zodiac (12). “Hence these numbers would suggest, more than others, a world where time and space have become the same thing.”
I’ll quote him the rest of the way here:
But correspondence does not seem to be the central thing that the Bible is saying about the relation between man and nature. We get instead a strong feeling that there are assumed to be two levels in that relation. The lower level is outlined in God’s contract with Noah, after the deluge has receded:
And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.
Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. (Genesis 9:2-3)
We notice, first, that no restrictions are placed on what man is to eat, in striking contrast to the elaborate dietary laws later imposed on Israel alone. It was to this general contract with Noah that Christianity decided to return, after rejecting the Jewish law as no longer binding on Christians (Acts 10:15). Second, man’s attitude to nature is assumed to be one of domineering exploitation, a reign of terror over all “inferior” creatures, and illustrating Schopenhauer’s remark that the animals live in a hell of which mankind are the devils. (continue reading…)
A couple of Aprils ago I felt like making a version of 2001: A Space Odyssey with an alternate soundtrack just to draw out different tones and see what happens (Giorgio Moroder did this with Metropolis in 1984). Kubrick uses a lot of silence and non-diegetic music to achieve various gradients of tonal irreducibility, so really all you have to do is pick something that lines up with its visual beats and lay it down. Since we’re using my music library here the result is unavoidably 80s-tinged pop opera.
The highlight is probably the 16-minute sequence toward the end where Dave has his pivotal encounter with the black monolith, catalyzing a next-level mode of existence and featuring an uninterrupted medley of The Knife, Air Supply & Duran Duran (See “Conjunction” embed below), though my favorite arrangements are the live Orbital track with its audience cheering on cue as our willfully dull heroes approach the Moon in full hubris (“Arrival”), and the broken pieces of Heart and Alphaville that soundtrack a panicked Frank as he spirals into the infinite abyss of outer space after his umbilical is severed by HAL (“Void”).
What really comes out when watching the full movie like this is how Kubrick intentionally divests the dialogic narrative of all emotional content (excepting HAL’s demise at the end, which is both ironically and genuinely heartbreaking) so he can introduce it instead non-diegetically and full volume, pumped in from the cavernous vacuum of outer space. It’s as if the lives we live are dimensionally reduced exercises in “being human beings”, while our cathartic interiorities are wired in remotely, via the endless darkness that surrounds this planet, and to which we all return upon death.
As an aside, all of this is reminding me of my favorite all time representation of Eros: a giant lifeless rock careening forever across the black emptiness of space (the devastatingly named asteroid “433 Eros”).
The full version of Dan Hoy’s Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 was on Vimeo for awhile but was eventually pulled due to allegedly obvious copyright violations (um…). So I’ve uploaded all the doctored sequences as stand-alone music videos instead so they can experience life outside the lonely confines of my hard drive.
Here is the entire set list (embeds below): (continue reading…)
Scott McFarland — poet, union activist, and video artist – recently created two amazing short films (Eight Questions and Entry) inspired by The Fassbinder Diaries. They’re eerie, nocturnal, and filled with the Freudian uncanny. It’s like Hitchcock being locked in an editing room with a million strips of Fassbinder film. There has been a lot on this blog recently about the emerging intersection between poetry and video art, such as the recent posts on Persona Peep Show, and to me it’s one of the most vital trends going on in the poetry scene right now.
Thanks to Scott for the great videos!
One of the strangest, most original books I’ve read so far this summer is Kyle Muntz’s Green Lights – strange because of its mixture of whimsy and horror, the quotidian (neighborhoods, tree-lined streets) and the sublime (a mountain that holds up the universe, a giant flower). The story is so simple it could be from a children’s book. A narrator moves through a mysterious series of scenarios (a neighborhood, red rooms with bizarre sculptures, parking lots that spread out for miles) in his effort to “talk about color.” He encounters a villain (an old man whose “soul is like a pitcher with all the water poured out of it”), a sort of love interest (E, who constantly appears from the upper branches of trees), and an incredibly unlucky friend (M, who seems to be on a quest, but we never know for what exactly). The narrator himself is young, curious, and amiable for the most part — except when he gets a job “carrying a flamethrower around the neighborhood, melting people.” But even that brief moment is so Dali-esque — “melting people” made me think of melted watches — that it’s hard to hold it against him. He’s continually good-natured, often using the word “nice” to describe the more fun things that happen to him. But his seeming innocence is never cloying. He’s too alert to the world around him, too aware of its dangers — as when the old man kidnaps E — to become overly cute.
One of the best qualities about Green Lights, I think, is the power of the imagery: it often borders on the psychedelic, but not in a clichéd way. More like the dreams and visions of Rimbaud (especially Illuminations), Angela Carter, Jack Smith, Harry Darger. As the narrator describes one bacchanal: “All of us were wearing masks. Mine was white with narrow eyes and red paint on the front. The music of us glowed like something better than sound. It was breaking through boundaries. This is the greatest thing, to be in each of us.” Only a few pages earlier, there is a giant flower “at least a hundred feet tall.” The narrator winds up swimming in a lake he finds inside of it. Muntz’s spectrum is often in cartoon colors, forming in cartoon shapes, and like some cartoons, the images have their own screwy logic — scenes leap acrobatically from other scenes.
A few years ago, I remember reading a book review — I can’t remember of what book — but the reviewer said it was a children’s book written for adults. It was meant as a compliment, and it could apply to Green Light as well. It’s filled with lines like “E was looking at a flower. Then she held it up to the sun for a second, until it caught on fire.” It’s a book that tries to lure us to some fresher, less hidebound, less “adult” was of thinking, perceiving. It’s a book of radical, subversive innocence.
Tomorrow (Sunday) at 1 pm, Cassandra Troyan and I (and some dancers) will perform a Fassbinder-inspired piece called Beware of a Holy Whore” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
[Michael Martin Shea is a poet and 2014 Fulbright Fellow to Argentina. His research interests include ecopoetics, political theory, Latin American poetry, and contemporary American avant-gardes. This essay is part of a larger project that attempts to historicize the Necropastoral, both philosophically and aesthetically. He lives in Las Vegas, Nevada.]
Like my dad always says, “There’s more than one way to necropasotral.” And if we can think of the necropastoral as a mode of reading, (Joyelle calls it a “reframing”), then it follows that, like any critical praxis, there are theoretical underpinnings, forerunners, sleeper-ideas that prefigure and inform the current moment. The ones who furnished the war-room with all these fancy snacks. The most obvious, of course, is Raymond Williams’ The Country and The City, but I’m more interested in the work of Giorgio Agamben and his theorization on the state of exception.
Agamben’s work draws from his analysis of the logic of sovereignty as articulated by Carl Schmitt (the, ahem, Nazi thinker)—that sovereignty is given by the power to suspend or supersede the law, or, in other words, to create a state of exception. Sovereign violence is the prime example—I mean, y’all heard about these drone strikes? But this leads to a paradox: if the sovereign can suspend the law, then the sovereign is above the law at the same time as his/her existence as sovereign is constituted by the prior existence of the law. Sovereignty is marked by being both outside the law’s domain and inscribed at its center.
Of course, this is the case all the time—this logic upholds the juridical society by marking the law’s “threshold or limit concept,” so long as the state of exception is fundamentally different from the normal case. What Agamben is really interested in is when the state of exception and the rule become one—his example, surprise, is Nazi Germany. With the law suspended in toto, the threshold of the law begins to disappear.And when this happens, it reveals the fundamental locus of sovereign power as residing in the presumed displacement of physical life for the achievement of political life. Or, in other words, the law is thought to exist to turn bare life, flesh, material being into the good life, the intellectual life, the enlightened; what the state of exception demonstrates is that this displacement is a false construction—the bios, the bodies, were there all along. They were always what the law depended on and acted on, that which necessitated the creation of the law and sustained the law as the object of sovereign violence, its legitimizing threat. And now that the state of exception has become the rule, the primacy of the body, its vulnerability as a political object, is front-and-center. Or, to let Agamben say it himself:
At once excluding bare life from and capturing it within the political order, the state of exception actually constituted, in its very separateness, the hidden foundation on which the entire political system rested. When its borders begin to be blurred, the bare life that dwelt there frees itself in the city and becomes both subject and object of the conflicts of the political order.
If this sounds familiar, it might be because the pastoral relies on the same logic of displacement—a fantasy of a bodiless, deathless existence. The good life. It’s a projection that claims bare life, violence, disease—it all lies over there (in the city, outside the law) when, really, the call is already coming from inside the house. And likewise, the necropastoral is a similar blurring of the already-false lines, making that inside/outside logic explicit and, in the process, re-centering our focus on the body, on death, on corruption, on everything we thought we excluded. But more than drawing simple parallels, I want to make a point about Necro-P as a politically expedient mode of reading and creating texts. Agamben goes on to argue that post-9/11 conditions have essentially allowed for the creation of a permanent state of emergency, demonstrated by suicide bombings, extra-juridical killings, airport scanners, indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay, NSA data collection—not to mention the various other aspects of biopower already in-play. And from this, it follows that the necropastoral is not so much an aesthetic of deracinated window-dressings (we can say “drone strikes” too!) as it is a theoretically solvent response to the ubiquity of this exploded dialectic, to the incessancy of our bodily existence as the “medium for infection, saturation, death.” In fact, if we are forced into a world where the exception is the rule and our bodies are collateral, then an art of celebrating the fall of our false exclusions can even be seen as a re-appropriation of power: this time, we’re the ones exploding the illusion. Or rather, yes, the necropastoral is a mode of aesthetic decadence, but it’s also an appropriately politicized rejection of a pastoral mirage that, in the words of Williams, “served to cover and to evade the actual and bitter contradictions of the time.”
“Jack Nicholson’s mind is possessed. Like my body, my dress.”: Paul Cunningham on Sara Tuss Efrik’s “Night’s Belly”
Johannes asked me to talk about my translation of Sara Tuss Efrik’s “The Night’s Belly” (Nattens Mage), a hellish three-part fairy tale of wombs and charred rooms that draws on Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the story of Sleeping Beauty (or Thorn Rose; Little Briar Rose), Little Red Riding Hood, and possibly even Polanksi’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). “There are plots against people, aren’t there?” This is the question a frantic, phone booth-encased Rosemary desperately asked after being cruelly deceived by her husband. In “The Night’s Belly,” Efrik’s female protagonist similarly carries a child of unknown origin. A swelling devil-red child—sometimes described as having pincers, or flapping wings. A throbbingly painful monstrosity. Possibly the child of her husband’s “red mistress” (who later evolves into more of a Macbeth-style witch-mistress), Efrik’s protagonist continuously obsesses over the unfaithful husband’s activities:
“The nipples smarted, the pubic hair frizzed up. Paranoia melts and is redistributed, transformed into small graftings of screaming creatures. Girl dolls, logs. Everything gets mixed together. The heat pushes moisture out of the skin, surfaces glow teasingly. The husband finds himself on the African continent, in a city of solidified lava. White jeeps cross paths with starving dogs, gospel music flows out of Pentecostal churches, overcrowded hopsitals have locked their gates. The suicidal husband drives around with a sweet slut. They are going to climb Nyiaragongo. I expand the image, a widening circle, it whirls, a treasonous ring dance around that which burns. More and more sluts. A mass of eggs, explosions, a burning sky, a spray of shrapnel across our bodies.”
The first section, “Red Mistresses (Retreat),” poises readers to flow “valve after valve” through a paranoid pipeline of lava-like sewage. A montage of excrement. A language of shit. An age of drug-induced decay. The protagonist’s womb is volcano-like. Logs of “girl dolls” burn up on the fire. Her unborn child appears to be violently attached to her like ropes of pahoehoe.
“The Shining played on a television as we fucked. Because Nyiaragongo burned my husband’s body. From beneath the eggshell roars a burning river. My body is not a knife. Or an alternative. My only choice is exorcism. Anything to avoid melting.”
The notion of the child in “The Night’s Belly” appears to be something more akin to Cronenberg’s “psychoplasmic” children of The Brood (1979) or the supernatural occurences in The Exorcist (1973). Efrik’s body of text gradually begins to resemble the hauntings of Kubrick’s own labyrinthine mise-en-scene. The protagonist’s swollen belly ambushes the reader with appropriations of Kubrick’s occult hotel, which include the trance-like repeat of the Grady twins as well as moments of repetition reminiscent of Jack’s typewriter antics. (“i am no one / it’s not a secret anymore / not a chore anymore / not a secret chore anymore / i do not know who i am anymore”) Author Robert Luckhurst has noted the ways in which Kubrick embedded violent pieces of his own troubled self (i.e. his maddening need for multiple takes, the inclusion of his personal typewriter, his habit of tossing a baseball against a wall) into The Shining. Efrik’s protagonist appears to be wrestling with a similar blurring of identity:
“I am a creature’s surrogate mother. I fertilize it with female twin filled hallways. Fertilization, an infinite hotel. And everything is there. The child’s red mothers. The child’s father. I am also there. There is also a nursery. I hide myself beneath a blanket of solidified lava. I hide there among animal limbs and sawn off pipes of bone. My twin filled stomach valves (a goosefoot valve, a pizzeria valve, a vulgar valve), perfected overnight. Cavities enable my ascent. Mistresses! Come and save me, pull me out of myself!”
A Lemonade-Genius, Tart and Incisive, Sold by the Sip: On _A Mammal’s Notebook: The Writings of Erik Satie”
When I wish:
…I live in France
“in the days of Charlemagne.”
thanks to a friend of mine who is a Wizard…
(Return to the Past)
We haven’t yet made it to the Dog Days of summer and yet it is time for something completely different—A Mammal’s Notebook: The Writings of Erik Satie, edited and introduced by Ornella Volta, translated by Antony Melville, and just out from Atlas Press, London. This volume, like Satie, aka ‘The Velvet Gentleman”, is good-looking, hilarious, charming, insane, snippy and visionary, all at once.
Volta, a Satie scholar who established and oversees his archives and runs the Satie museum in Paris, notes “Satie still seems, even now, contemporary, because the problems he brought to light remain unresolved.” In the wake of Wagnerism, those problems included how to wave away self-seriousness and bring lightness, exuberance, play, modern flexibility into modern musical composition. Satie’s innovations were nimble, direct, cussed, literally childish, and endlessly inventive, and feel, to this day, fresh, completely free and freeing. First, he writes very short pieces, often quoting and satirizing both friends and enemies (Satie is truly contemporary in the quantities (and quality) of his frenemies). Next, he titles them after decidedly un-serious, anti-musical and/or formally paradoxical topics—Desiccated Embryos, Bothersome Globs, Sports & Recreations, Three Compositions in the Shape of a Pear, etc. Next, he annotates his extremely brief pieces with hilarious indications to the performer—“As if you were congested”; “Almost invisible”; “Be an hour late”; “Corpulentus” ; “On yellowing velvet”; etc. The brief, stanzaic texts which accompany many of the compositions have the barmy precision (Volta’s word) of Crevel (and/or Paul Legault’s playlets) (or Mallarme’s translations of English nursery rhymes) (or Stein) and are plenteous and delightful. In a piece for children, which reads half-Tzara, half-Richard-Scarry–
3. Steps of a Grand Staircase
It is a grand staircase, very grand.
It has more than a thousand steps, all made of ivory.
It is very beautiful.
No one dares to use it for fear of spoiling it.
The King himself has never used it.
To leave his room, he jumps out of the window.
And often he says:
“I love this staircase so much I am going to have it stuffed.”
The King is right, isn’t he?
In addition to these charming texts to accompany compositions and the vitally bonkers performance indications, A Mammal’s Notebook includes hilarious lectures, complete with loopy loaded ellipses which anticipate Jack Smith (note: all ellipses in the below passage Satie’s):
A critic’s brain is a store,–
– a department store
You can find anything there: –orthopaedics,– sciences, –bed-linen, –arts, –travelling rugs—a wide range of furniture,–French and foreign writing paper;–
–woolens,– hats, –sports, —walking-sticks, –optician’s,– perfumery,–etcetera
The critic knows everything, —….. sees everything, –hears everything,— touches everything,…
moves everything around….., eats anything….., confuses everything…….– & thinks nothing of it…..
What a man!!…..
Tell the world!!!……
All our wares are guaranteed!!!……
In hot weather,–
All the merchandise is kept inside!!!
Inside the critic!!!!!
This is the kind of delightful, crazy jousting we find throughout Satie’s compositions, verbal, textual, or otherwise. The maddening elliptical pacing is like a tonal, Loony-Tunes powder keg being tossed back and forth between speaker and audience. One imagines ‘the critic’ fuming alongside on tiny shoes like Yosemite Sam, about to provide the flame that explodes the proceedings.
In addition to the lectures, notes, annotations and libretti, (texts not to be read aloud, texts to be danced, sung, etc), and texts written for publications, the most intriguing ‘specimens’ in this mammal’s notebook are two further uncategorizable texts. First, the “Catalogue of Erik Satie’s Musical and Literary Works with Comments by the Same Gentleman”, which I take to be a collaboration between Volta and Satie: a timeline of the composer’s life work with notes retrieved from Satie’s manuscripts and inserted alongside the dated texts, such as, regarding Medusa’s Snare:
This is a play of pure fantasy… with no reality.
Do not see it as anything else.
The role of Baron Medusa is a sort of portrait… Even a portrait of me… a full-length portrait of me.
This catalogue is a dotty and engrossing piece of collaboration between the scholar and her subject and I’m delighted by the little spark of occult flame that jumps across, as Satie appears to provide the scholarly annotation for his own life. Satie is also quoted as writing, of himself, “His music is senseless & makes people laugh & shrug their shoulders.”
But the final, mysterious wealth of this book is the nearly indescribable “Private Advertisements”—selections from a collection of 4,000 cards which were found in Satie’s apartment after his death. These close set, printed or hand written cards read like cryptic advertisements, musical scores or even architectural renderings. These are impossible to truly quote here—“Forge-on-the-Bubble/The White Pine Inn:/Manor & Farm/ (1253)/Entirely in cast iron/Gift of the Devil to his Godson”—but suggest an endlessly ingenious mind following a path of inspiration truly beyond what contemporary genres or media could accommodate—are these scores? cards for a player piano? computer programs? advertisements? parts of a Darger-like novel? The novel of the 19th century dying into the 20th? I think also of the endlessly inventive work of Ray Johnson, whose inexhaustibly playful correspondence art has just now been reissued by Siglio in gorgeous large editions, & might be read alongside Satie’s.
Volta’s frontmatter and annotations record the life of an artist always slipping in and out of synch with his contemporaries, prefiguring and racing ahead of them, claimed as this one’s forbear, that one’s follower, leader to this group, émigré from that. I almost picture a figure like Ray Johnson, or like Chaplin’s tramp in Modern Times who enters the clockwork wrongways and so is shot out by the machinery into force-driven, yet farcical, free, plastic, elastic space. Perhaps this paradox describes the way Satie participates in and even generates the musical language of his time while also seeming thrown completely wide of it, making work for future aliens and holothurians to play back with delight.
The Latina Gurlesque vs. Everyone Else: A Preface to a Reading Against the White House of Enlightened Poets (this Friday in NYC!)
AMIGAS, get ready for the World Cup of all poetry readings! The throw-down featuring Jennifer Tamayo, Monica McClure, and me will be in NYC this Friday, 7:30pm, at the Bureau of General Services-Queer Division (details here).
Me and my superstar fellow readers, I must point out, are not battling each other as opponents. Far from it, we’re joining forces as the one and only LATINA GURLESQUE, a luminous, feminist, outrageous decolonial parade. Taking a SPICY, CALIENTE line of flight south of the original Gurlesque anthology, our aesthetic already throbs in contemporary performance art. Consider the mystic genitalia and unholy queer ‘spictacles’ of La Chica Boom:
By Laura Ellen Joyce
Sara Tuss Efrik’s Persona Peep Show is a reproduction that draws attention to its status as perverse copy – as defaced art. The poem-film examines what it means to reproduce. There is a heavy emphasis on the female body in the language and visual imagery of the piece. What we are seeing in this film is both a reproduction of Bergman’s Persona, and an interrogation of the ways in which reproduction happens culturally, artistically, and biologically. Efrik reminds us that reproduction is an uncanny act, that to reproduce is always to die. Reproduction exists as a means to protect the dwindling, fragile object which is replaced. In the case of Persona Peep Show, Efrik resituates Bergman’s original film within a contemporary political and artistic context and allows it to be disseminated anew. What she also does is to set up a series of psychoanalytic and feminist concerns around the nature of reproduction.
Reproduction in Persona Peep Show is miasmic, toxic, and yet utterly natural. Nature shown to be violent, messy and chaotic — when the narrator says: ‘you imagine nature is leaking. It doesn’t’ and ‘that’s just fenced nature’, the speaker implies that nature does not leak, does not encroach, but rather is present in every act, in every meaning. This conception of nature is reminiscent of Timothy Morton’s work on nature and ecology – work which is typified by his term ‘hyperobject’ By this term he means objects which are beyond our understanding — objects which will exist well beyond our lifetime. He says that: ‘[a]longside global warming, hyperobjects will be our lasting legacy. Materials from humble styrofoam to terrifying plutonium will far outlast current social and biological forms.’ It is this version of nature – the trashy, the toxic, the undead, which is invoked in Persona Peep Show. Reproduction is presented through the insistence on artificial plurality. When the narrator states that ‘the highest realization of credibility in her world is my ability to reproduce her. i.e. create copies of her from her, duplicate her. She she she she she’ There is an indication that the internal logic of Persona Peep Show is concerned with proliferation above all else – a contagious, miasmic reproduction, with the female image a its bacterial heart.