Archive for June, 2012
I believe this Beauty Pageant for Holocaust Survivors, held in Haifa, Israel, goes to the heart of the Montevidayan aesthetic, and why/how it is political. First of all, there’s the political event of grotesque beauty. This article is presented on the BBC under as News from the Middle East. The mention of the six million is regulated to a kind of footnote in the story. The event of the beauty pageant becomes the event to which that other historical event (the Holocaust) becomes satellite, adjacent.
So the pageant is a kind of political event in that it disturbs, distorts, interacts with what is more conventionally termed History or Politics, ‘The Holocaust’, the singular event which is recognized politically to be so singular that it must happen never again. The grotesque is an aesthetic that admits that history always has a small h, and is always happening, again and again and again…
Fourteen women, aged 74 to 97, walked along a red carpet in the city of Haifa and described their personal sufferings from the Nazis during World War II.
Hava Hershkovitz, 79, who had to flee her native Romania, was later crowned the winner of the pageant.
The 14 finalists had been chosen from hundreds of applicants based on their personal stories of survival and their later contributions to local communities across Israel. Physical appearance contributed only about 10% of the criteria
Moreover there’s the event of beauty itself, beauty and decay saturating the same instance, beauty as what holds decay to a body, and vice versa, beauty as decay’s vice versa, and vice versa, beauty queens in their 70′s, 80′s, and 90′s who are judged 10% on their looks, who might be thus seen to be 90% decayed. The 90% of them which is not their looks is not their beauty, but is their story of escaping the Nazis. That is the part of them occupied by their decay. Their decay is their triumph. They lived long enough to decay while still living. Moreover, these women walk the red carpet and tell their tales of surviving the 20th century. Witness becomes performed, exteriorized, something that can be judged for its quantity/quality against other bodies of witness. (continue reading…)
“As I continue to be exposed to Korean poetry, I think to myself that it is very possible that my own style of writing will change,” said celebrated French poet and philosopher Michel DeGuy, who attended all four of the readings. On the June 6 reading at the Korean Cultural Center in Paris, DeGuy surprised the audience by delivering an impromptu mini-lecture on poetry as an important vehicle for rich cultural exchange between Korea and France.
“We [French poets] may have known Korea, but we did not know the Koreans,” asserted DeGuy. “Korean poetry is a world of uncharted depths, and now this world has been opened up to the French people. Our communion has begun.”
Kim Hyesoon is (as I wrote in the previous post) reading with Nobel laureates Seamus Heaney and Wole Soyinka tonight in London. She’s been reading in a bunch of places around Europe and her work is being published around Europe (I know the Scandinavians were early fans). The fact that a lot of these translators and reading organizers came across her work in the Action Books titles (Mommy Must be a Fountain of Feathers and All the Garbage of the World, Unite!) is incredibly satisfying and makes me very proud.
I think it’s totally expected that a lot of the most vital, important poetry is being written in a seemingly provincial, marginal country like the “neo-colony” of South Korea. The most interesting work tends to pop up in the peripheries. Though in many cases, it doesn’t get translated, or the translation don’t get published in the US.
If you live in London, you should definitely go see Action Books author and international phenomenon Kim Hyesoon read tonight with Simon Armitage, Wole Soyinka (!) and Seamus Heaney. Here’s the link: http://ticketing.southbankcentre.co.uk/find/literature-spoken-word/tickets/simon-armitage-kim-hyesoon-seamus-heaney-bill-manhire-kay-ryan-jo-shapcott-wole-soyinka-6583
I’ve been watching as much Werner Schroeter films/clips as possible recently as well as reading about him. You can read more about him on his wikipedia page here, but to put things briefly, he was a German film-maker of the same generation as Fassbinder, through he never achieved the same amount of international fame (Fassbinder apparently thought he deserved much more acclaim).
An important note for Montevidayo is that apparently the essential influence was that of Jack Smith, whose films Schroeter watched in the late 1960s. You can see the influence for example on this early film, Eika Katappa:
He shared with Smith the love of somewhat kitschy divas – but instead of Maria Montez, Schroeter made a movie dedicates to Maria Callas (he also made movies starring Candy Darling).
Here’s an excerpt from a later movie, The Rose King:
I love the black ink. (In fact my next book, Haute Surveillance, re-writes this scene and some others.)
When things are charismatic, you can’t really put your finger on it because it isn’t always just that they’re beautiful. There are people who are really attractive, but they don’t really have charisma. It’s there, and then you get to know them and it’s gone. And then there are people who have this incredible allure that keeps you interested in them and what they want to say. I think about it as a way to get around character and plot and psychological stuff; I just think about it really practically. How can I hold their attention, how can I get them interested in this — so they’ll be interested in something deeper, more in it than just the characters and what they’re going to do or what’s going to happen in the end or how the story is going to play out? Just trying to find a way to make the words really charismatic. I mentioned Rimbaud — Rimbaud’s work is incredibly charismatic. That’s a really high example of it. And that’s one thing poetry does, and maybe because I came out of poetry to a certain degree, because poetry’s all about charisma.
How is that for a potent antidote to “sincerity”?
Letter to the editor (“I am its excess spit into the world. I am the city’s counterfeit body, the queer it expelled, the queer it now calls on to confess.”)
[I get a lot of letters from people I don't know but who read my poems and/or Montevidayo; it is actually very nice (when the letters are nice, they are just as often full of hate). I just got this letter the other day from Sean Wehle, and I thought it was moving so I decided to post it. Of course I am - as I noted in my post on Dear Ra - very interested in the epistolary form.]
I’ve been spurred by the moment to send you this note, though this moment could also have been any moment in the past two years. I’m a college student, but more importantly, a very frequent flyer over Montevidayo. You and Joyelle and everyone are teachers I learn from everyday and I cannot separate myself now from your one little URL.
I don’t remember what happened. First I found myself in Joyelle’s Loser Occult. “Outside the campus bookstore a few weeks ago, I glimpsed a white minivan with a green bumper sticker reading ‘I miss Ronald Reagen’ in big goopy white Snoopy toothpaste font.” She would soon incant, “the borders of the text fray away,” and I realized suddenly where I was standing: Notre Dame, somewhere between the alumni association center and the guard gate leading me out of the parking lot, into the graveyard. I did a little research on the spot to puzzle out that Joyelle and you, indeed, both live in South Bend, and work at the university. Somehow I had returned — I myself was born in South Bend, and probably at some point already died there. But I did live there for 18 years, with my mother in a house across from ‘White Field’ parking lot, just behind the new golf course. In fact neither of those ‘landmarks’ existed for the majority of those years; my time growing up in that neighborhood is marked out for me by the slow compression of space the university pressured. I left for college to lift up. I can’t be blamed for needing a lift. But when I became a member of the loser occult and began reading Montevidayo, I saw everywhere only signs of the city I left. But its value — transformed. I recognize my luck having been born against a necropastoral, learning to drive in a quarantined parking lot, or seeing my cardboard trash repossessed by men carrying print-outs of protesting dead babies, or visiting my schizophrenic aunt as she hosted salons at Kinko’s. I had always thought my past life produced a sense. I understand now how it only destroyed me.
Above is a little track of me reading the “Do-it Duet” from a play in progress, Glock Chorus. Glock Chorus is set in an electrified shower stall of the sort Halliburton built for US soldiers, gold foiled, cellophaned, crammed with the All the Dead of Iraq: soldiers, police, insurgents, martyrs, politicians, contractors, civilians, just people, probably some animals too. This is my Byzantium: overloaded, electrified, stinking, corrupt, temporary but eternal as long as it keeps singing of what is passed, and passing, and to come. This track features me reading one of the songs of Byzantium, sung by two rats of Byzantium, two private contractors who were hired to exterminate the pet cats in the Green Zone. Et in Byzantium, extermination ego.
Probably because I was raised on a diet of Yeats, I find myself with that fantastic phrase in my head all the time now: “And gather me/into the artifice of eternity.” For me that’s like a prayer, that’s what I want from Art. But to enter Byzantium isn’t to be swept entirely clean of all traces, or to be clean at all. This is a decadent Byzantium, where the pleasure loving and the sage somehow inhabit the same instant, the same golden unbearable instant of eternity, a molten gold that has to be swallowed to be dwelt in, which damages the throat.
When I think of Byzantium, not as a historical location but as an imagined one, a sublime decaying one, a supersaturated one in which gold and garbage fumes pours out of every orifice, a stinking glamorous temporary eternal. Like this: (continue reading…)
[In response to the recent discussions about Sincerity, Gene Tanta sent me the following text to a talk he gave a while back in Chicago at the Green Lantern Gallery.]
Radical Banality: No Things but in Text
Identity and the Horse you Rode in on:
I invite you to sit awhile and stretch out the full length of your body in a grassy pasture between private cliché and public cliché. To strategically essentialize based on my experience, I would agree that ESL poets (Gertrude Stein, Luis Zukofsky, William Carlos Williams, Carl Rakosi, Claude McKay and contemporary ESL poets such as Rosmarie Waldrop, Charles Simic, Linh Dinh, Nina Cassian, Vladimir Nabokov, Joseph Brodsky, Bertolt Brecht, Charles Bukowski, Czeslaw Milosz, Ana Castillo, Juan Felipe Herrera, Pat Mora, Heberto Padilla, Miguel Pinero, Wole Soynka, Chris Abani, Chinua Achebe, and Bei Dao) see and hear English from the outside as a strange and awkward medium because learning to communicate with a new language demands more sensitive attention to its materiality than it does for native speakers.
The shock of the idiomatic phrase delights the foreign tongue because the foreigner hears (as does John Ashbery) in the wisdom of slang and cliché the horded culture of a people, a zeitgeist or an essence of a place in time, a myth of origin. The foreign poet takes delight in these loaded everyday dictums and listens with his tongue.
To continue my last words from a couple of weeks ago while taking into account recent posts, I’m going to beat a dead horse and explain more why I favor the model of susceptibility over sincerity. As hard as I try to embrace re-definitions of sincere art-making, I reach a limit when I think about violence. On Montevidayo we tend to collapse the categories of art and violence so often–as if art were inherently a violent force–that I can’t help but try to put the words ‘sincerity’ and ‘violence’ together. But I draw a blank each time I do this.
I get particularly confused when I follow my train of thought from examples of violence in/as art to examples of criminal violence. The most pertinent example right now, for me, is that of CeCe McDonald, the African-American trans woman who was sentenced to prison here in Minneapolis on a felony charge. After being harassed and punctured in the face with a glass, McDonald killed one of her attackers in self-defense with a pair of scissors. Although McDonald took a plea bargain and avoided going to trial, the prosecution would’ve undoubtedly argued that her act of self-defense was not ‘sincere’–that is, they would’ve claimed she did not act on fear for her own life.
I bring up this example to highlight the political ground we lose when we resign ourselves to ‘sincerity,’ a word I believe can do no good no matter how we twist it. This is a discourse, of course, on which the state and its prison industrial complex depend. By stressing McDonald’s free will and decision to retaliate, in this sense, the prosecution in McDonald’s case would’ve found a convenient way to overshadow a highly charged social context. They wouldn’t have needed to consider the climate of violence that plagues trans people, especially trans women of color, not to mention the swastika tattoo on the chest of McDonald’s attacker. If it sounds like I’m just speculating, here’s an interesting scoop: while the court disqualified Dean Schmitz’s Nazi tattoo as valid evidence, it permitted the prosecution to use a bounced cheque McDonald had once written to question her character. Her ‘insincerity,’ as in the case of many if not most people of color who go through the justice system, was easily emphasized over the race and gender dynamics of her case even before trial.
I don’t think it makes sense to ask whether McDonald’s act to protect her own life was sincere. I think McDonald did what she needed to do to survive; she was made susceptible to the circulation of violence the moment she walked out into the street as a trans black woman. Nor do I think it’s apt to ascertain the sincerity of the graffiti art that her case has spawned. People are still writing “Free CeCe” on public property from Paris to NYC not out of self-determined sincerity per se but a contagious sympathy, urgency, and necessity. As with the hoodie-wearing inspired by Trayvon Martin, they find themselves in alliance with McDonald because they’re shaken by a system that has not just failed to protect her, but has gone out of its way to target her and others like her. (continue reading…)
Montevidayans, I wanted to post this really interesting review of my new book on HTML Giant, not only because I’m really proud of it, but also because of the way Kyle Minor reads my book through the prism of our collective authorship/readership here at Montevidayo. It’s exciting. It suggests to me that we have really made something here. Here’s his characterization:
The Montevidayans, a loose group of writers and poets and visual artists (including Joyelle McSweeney, Johannes Goransson, Lara Glenum, Danielle Pafunda, and, more loosely, Kate Bernheimer), are distinguished from the preponderance of those who are identified (or who self-identify) as avant-garde or experimental or “new” or otherwise willfully other, by their willingness to embrace and explore rather than to exclude, and by their idea that art can accommodate the high, the low, the middle, the sideways, the backwards, the constructive, the destructive, the deconstructive, the narrative, the anti-narrative, the lyric, the dramatic, the miniature, the epic, the restrained, the willfully artful, the willfully artless, the garish, the respectable, the kitschy, the hybrid, the hi-bred, the high bread, and the red hype. Where others out of explicit big-timing (and implicit self-protection or self-promotion) construct ever smaller boxes within which art might reside — and say, implicitly (and sometimes explicitly): because I reject your standard notion of rules, which are meant to bind and shame me, I will make an idiosyncratic notion of rules, which are meant to bind and shame all who are not like me — the Montevidayans, in general, say: Yes.