by Johannes Goransson on May.08, 2014
We have had some discussion of Steve Burt’s “Nearly Baroque” article here on Montevidayo. Mostly we have been critical of the article, but I wonder if we cannot use it as a starting point for some more discussions of taste, translation and excess.
I certainly still believe that excluding any discussion of translation, especially translation of Latin American poetry, is at best what Joyelle called “a missed opportunity” and what Lucas said indexed “a certain allergy and attraction to the foreign, a certain anxiety over the loss of canon control.”
As I noted, this is an article that is very much trying to come to terms with a notion of taste, of the value of restraint as a model of taste. I wrote about this matter a few days ago. What is the pedagogical value to warn against “going too far”? Or using a “nearly baroque” to set up against an over-the-top baroque? Continue reading ““Visual Fascination”: More Thoughts on the “Nearly Baroque” and the “Baroque”” »
by Johannes Goransson on Apr.30, 2014
In response to Steve Burt’s “Nearly Baroque” article, Lucas and Joyelle wrote posts questioning the exclusion of the foreign, and in particular the Latin American engagement with the baroque. Lucas suggested that this “nearly baroque” not only omitted the Latin American poets, but that in fact it was a way of dealing with the threat of the foreign (fully baroque).
For me this is a key issue. One of the volatile aspects of translation is that it asks us to question what might be domestic tastes and conventions. I am fond of stating that translations cause problems because they generate too many versions of too many texts by too many authors. And as we know from the “too much” trope that has become increasingly common in contemporary US poetry discussions, this excess is tightly intertwined with the idea of taste. Taste saves us from the too much, the “plague ground.” It’s in fact because of the too much that we need taste. (See for example my Ranciere post from a while back.)
As I wrote in my last post, “baroque” is a kind of tastelessness, a kind of excess. The tasteless art that is seduced by the artistic, causing it to write too much, to put too much into the writing/art.
Continue reading “Is the Foreigner Baroque? (Haroldo de Campos and Yoko Tawada)” »
by Johannes Goransson on Apr.29, 2014
There has been some discussion here and on facebook about Steve Burt’s article on the “Nearly Baroque.” And not surprisingly, there has been a lot of focus on this “nearly,” a word that suggests both an open-ness to this baroque, and a restraint, an an ability to control this (possible dangerous, decadent impulse). It’s “extravagant” but not *that* extravagant.
I agree with Lucas’s (and Joyelle’s) suggestion that it has to do with a defense against the foreign, that the “fully baroque” may not even be a particular foreign poetry, but a more general foreign-ness. Lucas asserts:
“The exacted inexactness of Burt’s ‘nearly baroque,’ his ‘almost rococo,’ thus indexes a certain allergy and attraction to the foreign, a certain anxiety over the loss of canon control.”
I am interested in how Burt’s “nearly” plays into a dynamics of Taste, a sense that I think is enhanced by Burt’s standing as an arbiter of taste. For isn’t the most obvious meaning of baroque in fact “tasteless”? The word was first used as a derogatory term calling attention to an excess of ornamentality (which equals crime, thanks Modernism). And this is largely how Burt uses the terms as well. With this important change: the poets he writes about are “NEARLY” baroque.
Or: NEARLY TASTELESS.
Continue reading “Is the “Baroque” Tasteless?” »
by Lucas de Lima on Apr.18, 2014
Leaving aside the poets in Stephen Burt’s article the “Nearly Baroque” in the Boston Review, I think it’s really interesting how his model is founded on deficiency. That is, Burt defines his aesthetic category adverbially by its lack, its mere approximation, when the baroque by definition is primarily about fullness.
Mi gente, there is even such a thing as the Ultrabaroque, the supercharged flipside to Burt’s starved oxymoron.
In response to Burt, Joyelle wrote the following in her Poetry Foundation post “I Want to Go All the Way”:
….there is only a glancing mention, a name-checking, of the Latin American category of the Neo-Baroque. Investigation of Latin American authors, many of which have now been translated, could have lead to an interesting conversation regarding what it means that this literary style is emerging from across so many different regions, ethnicities, languages, across economic, historical & political conditions. That feels like a missed opportunity and a false erecting of a boundary. But more pressing to me is Steve’s insistence on “nearly” and “almost” throughout the piece. I counted, VIDA-style: 32 instances of “nearly,” 12 instances of “almost.” Why is it important for Steve to mark the border this way, to locate his poets on just this side of the Baroque? Just North of the Baroque? So far from God, ever-so-close-to-but-still-distinguishable-from the Baroque? Is he holding back, or are they? And why?
After mulling over Joyelle’s questions, I went all the way, adding to them. Why does Burt bother with the baroque in the first place? Instead of meeting the baroque halfway, why not come up with a more tailored concept (a la the Montevidayans) like the Gurlesque, the Necropastoral, or Atrocity Kitsch? Or even Burt’s own “elliptical poetry” or “the New Thing”? Then it occurred to me just how important lack in the “Nearly Baroque” may be. I think the ‘nearly’ of his taxonomy troubles it in ways that Burt doesn’t actually intend. In its admission to not quite living up to Severo Sarduy or Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the “Nearly Baroque” reads like the ultimate symptom of American literary provincialism.
A provincialism the term itself takes to its limit, nervously marking it. As if the boundaries that prop up jingoist navel-gazing had to finally dissolve. Continue reading “Provincialism at its Limits: On Stephen Burt’s Very US-American “Nearly Baroque”” »
by Johannes Goransson on Apr.03, 2014
This past weekend I went to Detroit to give a reading at the Salt and Cedar press, and it got me to thinking about “ruin porn” again, a pet topic of mine. As probably all of you know, “ruin porn” is the phrase used to condemn beautiful photographs of the ruins of Detroit (though I’ve also seen it on a local level, photographs of the ruins of South Bend at the local museum interestingly):
For example, I found this quote in a Huffington Post article summarizing this discussion: “Some have expressed frustration at the way decline is glamorized or exploited — it’s called ruin porn for a reason — rather than seen as part of the city’s larger ills.”
Glamor is a kind of exploitation because it is so purely aesthetic; it does not pay enough attention to context. And this comes up over and over in these discussions: these photos aestheticize or fetishize or glamorize the ruins. The key point is of course: they make art out of ruins.
Continue reading “Detroit is Baroque: Ruins, Pornography, Kitsch, Pedagogy” »
by Carina on Jan.18, 2013
This past Monday, I painted my nails with four different kinds of sheer pink glitter. On Saturday, I had been called baroque. Recently I have been going out more and more often in my petticoats, some of which are borrowed.
I am twenty-four years old. I have degrees and a job and an apartment. I have never learned to grocery shop. Almost two years ago I stood in my kitchen covered in facepaint and wearing my Swarovski-encrusted riding helmet from my teenage years, at a loss; a camera was on. I didn’t know how to look at it. My roommate’s parents kept us well-stocked in arbitrary necessities. In the cabinets, we had many canisters of sugar.
In living, one seeks the “sweet spot” – the punctum. At this moment the body becomes a gel in which the “I” is suspended, separate. The self perceives itself as parts of a sum of parts; a granular agent of decay.
This is not what one remembers. When I say “remember” I mean the body re-feels a traumatic moment. Every remembered moment is a trauma because the act requires a severing.
So Barthes’ camera is surgical. Photographic saturation of the eye triggers a phenomenological flattening of the substance which acts. Continue reading “PREAMBLE TO A CONSTITUTION OF BAROQUE MALAISE TRAIPSING THROUGH A FIELD OF DEAD WHITE FLOWERS.” »
by Lucas de Lima on Apr.13, 2012
I’m struck by how much Ghosts fits the description of the Baroque as per Deleuze’s The Fold, not least of all because of how the apartment building of the former finds an architectural equivalent in the allegorical baroque house of the latter text. If Aira’s ghosts hang out on rooftops and invite suicides, Deleuze reserves the top floor of Leibniz’s Baroque structure strictly for the soul, leaving materiality below it in the first floor:
A “closed private room, decorated with a drapery diversified by folds” is thus elevated over “common rooms, with several small openings” symbolic of the five senses. As perceptual faculties, these openings allow “a correspondence and even a communication between the two levels, between the two labyrinths, between the pleats of matter and the folds in the soul.” Here Deleuze poses a question that we might also ask of the mediating intensities roused in Ghosts: “A fold between the two folds?” That is, what are the ghosts if not vehicles of pure sensation, the zone of inseparability that folds souls and bodies into each other, that makes death visible and otherwise perceivable to living humans:
Absorbed by the sight of the ghosts, Patri had come almost too close to the edge. When she realized this, she took a step back. She observed them in the half-light, although they were a little too high, relative to her line of sight, for her to study them in detail. She could tell that they were the same as ever; what had changed was the light. She had never seen them so late in the day, not in summer. The unreal look they had in the saturated light of siesta-time, at once so shocking and so reassuring, like idiotic bobbing toys, had evaporated in the dramatic half-light of evening. They rose up in front of her quite slowly; but, given her previous experiences, Patri had reason to believe that their slowness was swarming with a variety of otherworldly speeds. Seen from a right distance, what seemed almost as slow as the movement of a clock’s hand could turn out to be something more than mere high velocity; it could be the very flow of light or vision. Continue reading “Aira Book Club Part 4: Baroque Folds/Gay Ghosts” »
by Johannes Goransson on Apr.13, 2015
The other day I discovered an interesting review of Haute Surveillance on Publisher’s Weekly. Often negative reviews are very revealing – especially when it’s such a negative review as this, especially in a magazine that like to present itself as a “journal of record” that is supposed to be a guide to things published with an air of “objectivity.” If an “objective” record has to abject my book in this way, has to warn instead of merely take note of my book, what does it say about my book’s relationship to “objective” American poetry?
I am particularly interested in the contradictions of this rhetoric: It is both “underwhelming” and “orgiastic,” both “pornography” and “disinteret[ed],” a morass” that “drowns” the reader and “vacuous.” The review repeatedly presents my book as both too much and not enough. This is the hallmark of when people who perceive themselves as having refined taste tries to shield others from work that challenges that taste.
How can a text both be a barrage that drowns the reader and be “exhaustive critique”? The critique suggest a stable place from which to view one’s culture; and that’s a place I’ve never found for myself, and it’s not a stance I’ve found convincing in other writers. (I’ve written quite a bit about my dissatisfaction with this pervasive paradigm of the writer-as-critic, for example here.)
It seem this person is unable to read the text and has to fall back on a number of cliches (that contradict each other): it’s about “spectatorship” (which it certainly is), so it must be a “critique”. If it’s pornographic and masochism, then it cannot be “boundary-pushing” (ie “experimental”). When you stumble into this many contradictions, I think it’s important to ask oneself as a critic if one is actually reviewing a book or flailing wildly?
The review is correct in many ways (perhaps in spite of itself). I think my book mostly certainly is a “morass” and “masochistic”, and it most certainly doesn’t provide a way out, a way forward, a progressive worldview. It is most certainly meant to be a “barrage.” But again, if I were the critic, I might ask myself: Why is this author creating a barrage, a morass? Why would someone want to subject himself or his reader to such “smut”? Can there be any other way than the “critique” of engaging with US culture (and its splendid images, its barrage, its violence)?
The smut is particularly interesting to me of course. The falling back on the rhetoric of “pornography” is common these days. I have written extensively about this (for example here, about “ruin porn”). At the heart, I think this line of criticism goes back to the fundamental rhetoric of high taste: high taste is anxious about art that traffics in sensational images. I have also written about Jacques Ranciere’s “The Emancipation of the Spectator”:
It was in this context that a rumour began to be heard: too many stimuli have been unleashed on all sides; too many thoughts and images are invading brains that have not been prepared for mastering this abundance; too many images of possible pleasures are held out to the sight of the poor in big towns; too many new pieces of knowledge are being thrust into the feeble skulls of the children of the common people…
This also goes back to my last post, which treated the charges that Action Books represented a “sensationalistic” – and therefore immoral, ignorant – aesthetic.
by Johannes Goransson on Jan.29, 2015
Lately I’ve been reading this new book Wunderkammer by Cynthia Cruz. The title refers to cabinets of curiosity, or wunderkammers, a subject matter I’m interested in. These chambers (sometimes rooms, sometimes boxes) was how back in pre-modern-science days people collected curiosities, often from other parts of the world, objects not following some kind of scientific classificatory system but rather tied together by their capacity to incite “wonder.”
In the book Artificial Kingdom, Celeste Olalquiaga traces kitsch back to this “science”, which in its undead state turns into things like the “fern-craze” of Victorian England, when people would get aquariums and put ferns in them. I’m fascinated the wunderkammer’s inevitable connection between collecting, imperialism, decadence/death and of course Art.
I might even say that Surrealism – which so often stands in for “kitsch” in contemporary US poetry discussions – is based on the idea of the wunderkammer – with its collection of strange, useless, outdated objects brought together by occult forces. Benjamin famously called surrealism “dream kitsch”; and Clement Greenberg called Max Ernst “postcard kitsch.” Between those two phrases you get the connection between the wunderkammer and surrealism.
Of course this can be seen most clearly in Joseph Cornell’s boxes:
These boxes of dream-trash, rescued from the garbage heap of New York City’s dreams.
Cruz’s poems are almost all wunderkammers – some of the poems are actually called wunderkammer, but even the ones that aren’t have the sense of a collection of objects brought together by some strange act:
A Greek crime mars the pastoral.
Charts and maps, an atlas of anesthesia-
Laced nostalgia. A long haired, white
Rabbit, muffled, shot, and stuffed.
And old yellow chiffon gown, the ribbon
Hem, ripped and red wine stained.
Curricula of the mundane.
Symptoms of trauma, like ghost
Spots of water on crystal
That will not be washed off.
In many ways this poem seems to straight up describe a Cornell box. Like Cornell, Cruz’s poem is invested in the necroglamorous: the rabbit is stuffed, the chiffon gown old and stained, the crystal has ghost spots. But it is glamorous nonetheless, anesthesized by “nostalgia” and more specifically the nostalgia for glamor. The numbing seems to be physical: the speaker seems stuck like a stuffed rabbed, she cannot “wash off” the atmosphere of the piece, which primarily consists of the “chiffon gown” -its material seems to immobilize her. She cannot really get out of the box so to speak until the negative ending “will not be washed off” which for me works as a relief from the stultifying, stunting but beautiful glamour.
Continue reading “Wunderkammer: Kitsch and Violence in Cynthia Cruz, Lara Glenum, Plath and Celan” »
by Johannes Goransson on Nov.11, 2014
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a response to Gregory Orr’s essay in the Writer’s Chronicle, in which he argues that Wordsworth is fundamentally democratic in his preface to the Lyrical Ballads because he argues for a non-flowery, non-poetic language that Orr sees as “open” to the lower classes.
But as I pointed out, this rejection of the “gaudy and inane phraseology” is anti-kitsch rhetoric. Further, Wordsworth was definitely not lower class, though he both used the ballad form (a fake lower class form) for an elite audience.
But I wanted to point out another element of Orr’s essay and that’s his use of a soldier-poet as an example for how poetry should be “emotion recollected in tranquility” (rather than say poems written in the state of disaster). Orr writes that he had read a manuscript by an un-named contemporary US poet about his time as a soldier in Vietnam, and how the two poems he wrote while in Vietnam stuck out from the manuscript, not only as bad poems but as unreal poems (I can’t quite remember the exact word Orr uses). The poet-soldier needed distance to achieve a tranquility in order to really process the poetry.
Orr also gives a moving account of accidentally killing his own brother and how it took him years to process this violence.
As I’ve written before, violence is everwhere. And poetry is not difference. The artistic experience is often a violent one. But contemporary American poetry critics still seems obsessed with distancing poetry from the violence of art and the violence of the world at large. It’s the dangers/fears of “aestheticizing violence” (which according to Benjamin is what the Nazis did, more about the Nazi-art connection some other time). And yet, violence is constantly brought in as a way of understanding poetry. Orr has to bring the war into his essay in order to remove poetry from it.
The thing that interests me about bringing it in is the way he joins the “gaudy and inane phraseology” of flowery language – of poetic language, of kitsch – to violence. Kitsch is violence. The poetic is inhuman.
In Orr’s article, it’s a way to show the importance of achieving distance. I sometimes think about a post I remember reading on John Gallaher’s blog a long time ago, in which he referenced an essay by Hank Lazer about a panel on poetry in the mid 80s. The crux of the discussion between different poets (some language poets and some not) was the prevalence of feeling:
“Jack Nicholson’s mind is possessed. Like my body, my dress.”: Paul Cunningham on Sara Tuss Efrik’s “Night’s Belly”
by Johannes Goransson on Jul.23, 2014
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!”
The Latina Gurlesque vs. Everyone Else: A Preface to a Reading Against the White House of Enlightened Poets (this Friday in NYC!)
by Lucas de Lima on Jul.09, 2014
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 Johannes Goransson on Jun.24, 2014
[Marty Cain has a very insightful review of Lucas de Limas’s Wet Land up on HTMLGiant. Here’s an excerpt:]
“In her response to Stephen Burt’s recent essay in the Boston Review, the poet Joyelle McSweeney criticizes Burt’s concept of the Nearly Baroque: “forget ‘nearly’ and ‘almost.’ I want to go all the way… All the way and out to the other side, which is this side, but eschatologically inverted.” Wet Land may be a perfect example of what McSweeney seems to be calling for. Rather than hiding behind an aesthetic mask, de Lima fully embraces artifice, deliberately taking ownership of the inherent violence in poetic representation:
MY BULLET CRACKS THE GATOR’S SKULL LIKE AN EGG.
MY BULLET SHATTERS THE GATOR THE WAY A WORD BREAKS OPEN THE LORD.
MY BULLET IS BEAUTIFUL.
IT SHIMMERS IN THE QUARTER-SIZED KILL SPOT ON THE GATOR’S NECK.
MY BULLET MAKES MY FATHER PROUD.
(from “KILL SPOT”)
In this invocative moment reminiscent of Frank Stanford, de Lima suggests that the artistic process is complicit in a circle of violence, death, and rebirth. The gator killed Ana Maria, the book symbolically kills Ana Maria again, and de Lima enters the pulsing door of grief, emerging on the other side with Wet Land, a text that inhabits a different world altogether—exhumed from a swamp, winding along a chaotic figure-eight in a cycle of violence and tenderness. It would be too predictable if de Lima chose to vilify the alligator, but fortunately, he resists the easy route. On the first page of the book, de Lima tells us that the alligator’s blood is “so potent it can destroy HIV,” and that he feels he has an “alliance” with the creature. The alligator becomes evocative of a transcendent presence, embodying both life and death, eros and violence.”