Things have been pretty sleepy here in Montevidayo, but The Actuary has been posting several great posts.
For example, Drew Kalbach applies some recent media theory to Joyelle’s concepts of “bug-time” and The Necropastoral.
This space of urban-meets-nature-mingles-death is a space of failure, decay, and mutation, a space that proliferates more than it moves forward. It’s a model of time that is uninterested in a nice linear gesture, but wants a swarming thrust. It is very much this hypertrophic image of counterprotocol Galloway and Thacker begin to map out. McSweeney’s necropastoral is itself a shape, a site, for these potential exploits to take place, or maybe it is an exploit in itself. It takes advantage of a networked system’s ability to replicate quickly and efficiently by going through massive amounts of data, of creation, of artworks, many failures and successes and deaths, uninterested in posterity or futurity, in order to create something pushed beyond the confines of typical artistic practices. The necropastoral is a space of art, death, politics, mutation.
And Evan Bryson has an incredibly thoughtful post on Seth Oelbaum, the prince of darkness and fashion who has been terrorizing so many people on HTMLGiant over the past month or two:
His collapse of all hope to a point of bitter dismissal is, in its way, a thrilling move, and its trajectory is defined no more starkly than in the history of queer writing itself. (Only looking at the spines to my right, I see American Sympathy by Caleb Crain, Policing Public Sex edited by Dangerous Bedfellows, Samuel R. Delaney’s The Motion of Light on Water, and Tiresias: The Collected Poems by Leland Hickman. Each volume has that Cepheid pulse of gay agony and gay ecstasy.) Snuffling in this abyss, Karlie Kloss‘s editor is a kind of martyr, a cutthroat priss, freighting his stigmata. He is a disgrace without shame, a boy who trespasses to be caught; he acts out his misguided zealotry before an audience he hopes will punish him. “[The stigmatized] is generally warned against fully accepting as his own the negative attitude of others toward him,” notes Erving Goffman in Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. “He is likely to be warned against ‘minstrelization,’ whereby the stigmatized person ingratiatingly acts out before normals the full dance of bad qualities imputed to his kind, thereby consolidating a life situation into a clownish role.” Karlie Kloss‘s minstrelsy is the absurd consolidation of gay bad press.
But his discussion also makes some apt observations about the Gurlesque and Artaud:
Over at The Actuary, Drew Kalbach has written an excellent post on response to Ange Mlinko’s review of the new Norton Anthology of postmodern poetry, finding in her rhetoric a desire to “shut down enjoyment”:
Mlinko’s review genuinely confuses me. Really, this type of rhetoric confuses me in general. Its only goal seems to be to not allow people to enjoy something. She seems to suggest, in the first paragraph, that students who are forced to purchase this book (leaving aside the agency all students have, and the availability of inexpensive used texts, etc etc) are somehow being done a disservice. But she assumes that these students will get nothing from these poems, will not enjoy these poems, because she does not enjoy these poems. More than that, she assumes these students can’t choose for themselves whether or not these poems are worthwhile; they need to be taught proper taste.
His post makes me think about another thing I recently read in Zizek’s book Violence (which I quoted a couple of days ago on a related topic):
What Nietzsche and Freud share is the idea that justice as equality is founded on envy – on the envy of the Other who has what we do not have, and who enjoys it. The demand for justice is thus ultimately the demand that the excessive enjoyment of the Other should be curtailed so that everyone’s access to jouissance is equal. The necessary outcome of this demand , of course, is asceticism. Since it is not possible to impose equal jouissance, what is imposed instead to be equally shared is prohibition.
So far, Zizek’s analysis seems to follow Kalbach’s: especially in an age of “glut,” when there’s “too much” poetry, “too much” poetry that is – inherently in the quantity – tasteless, we more than ever need prohibitions. It seems the only acceptable form of criticism in the poetry world is to stage prohibitions. Witness for example Tony Hoagland who has made a career it seems of attacking poetry that does too much (too “skittery,” too political, too extravagant etc).
But I think it’s important to be clear that those prohibitions come not just from Poetry Magazine, but also of course from “experimental poetry,” which is full of prohibitions – against “the lyric I”, against images, against this and that, against “expression,” against the poetic, against poetry itself (in the case of Conceptual Poetry) – and full of anti-kitsch rhetoric – against the “too much”, the flood of “soft surrealism”, of excess of “MFA poets” etc. Even Flarf in its jokey embrace of “bad poetry” is of course re-confirming the insistence of Taste (you just have to have enough good taste to imitate the bad taste, to know that it’s bad). In many ways, the rhetoric of experimental poetry often reminds me of Zizek’s notion of “hedonistic asceticism.”
2. What model of literary time is provided by this mutating field time, this bug time, this spasming, chemically induced, methed up mutating, death time, this model of proliferant, buggered, buggy, moist, mutating, selecting, chitinous, gooey, bloated, dying time, a time defined by a spasming change of forms, by generational die-offs, by mutation, by poisoning, a dynamic challenge to continuity, and by sheer proliferation of alternatives, rather than linear succession? How would T.S. Eliot’s golden lineup of genius allstars, constantly reordering itself but still male- and human- and capital-assets- shaped, be affected by this swarm of ravening pissed-off mutant bugs out-futuring them by dying six times a summer, by having no human-shaped future at all?
Recently a lot of people – a lot of them younger, a lot of them people with a fiction background who apparently used to think poetry was boring and a lot of Swedish and foreign poets – have asked me to tell them what contemporary poetry I read or I think they should read. Well, people often ask me to talk about contemporary US poetry, but so much that I love is in translation and I prefer to see US poetry in connection to other places. So here are some books of contemporary poetry I feel you need to read. I’ve excluded all Action Books and books that I have translated (all of which it goes without saying, you should read and read and read until you vomit!), but these are the books that really matter in contemporary poetry in my opinion:
The Drug of Art by Ivan Blatny (Ugly Duckling) – selection from a Czech poet, whose work ranges from Eastern European modernist poetry to the great late stuff, a glorious interlingual mish-mash. Read some poems here.
Raul Zurita, Dreams for Kurosawa – amazing visionary dream poems by one of the world’s great living poets. I love all his books: Prugatory, Songs for his Disappeared Love, Anti-Paradise etc. Here he is reading at Notre Dame.
Percussion Grenade by Joyelle McSweeney – Seth Oelbaum recently called Joyelle one of the three greatest living US poets, and that’s probably right. This is Joyelle’s best, most rambunctious, radical and necropastoral jam. (Also check out her new prose book Salamandrine: 8 Gothics.). Here’s something Joyelle recently wrote about the play, “Contagious Knives,” which is part of the book. Here’s a recent review in HTMLGiant. And another.
Chelsea Minnis, Poemland – Contemporary American poetry who blends fashion and ultra-violence. I love all of her books. This one is didactic in the best possible sense. I think she was also in Seth’s “top three.” It was also Minnis whose work first prompted Arielle Greenberg to coin the phrase “gurlesque,” a controversial and insightful concept that is now being hotly debated all over the Swedish newspapers, journals and webzines (here for example) due to Maria Margareta Österholm’s book of criticism, The Girl Laboratory in Pieces: Swedish Prose 1980-2005 (we published a translation of the intro here).
Alice Notley, Descent of Alette – It’s of course notoriously impossible to say who’s the “top three poets” in any country, but Notley has certainly been one of the best US poets over the past 20+ years. I love most of her books, but for me Alette – a feminist, visionary epic set in the subway of Reagan’s America (thus increasingly realistic, correct) – is probably still the best, the one I teach most often and the one I always recommend to people from other countries who want to know about the best contemporary US poetry.
Ronaldo Wilson’s Poems of the Black Object – African-American poet writes brutal, grotesque, gorgeous poems in prose and in pretty lyrics. I wrote this post about him a while back. This book really moved me.
Maroosa di Giorgio, The History of Violets – Aerie, mysterious necropastorals saturated by art, flowers and violence by the late Uruguayan super star (in the Warhol sense of that word). Swedish readers might see the incredibly close connection to Swedish poet Ann Jäderlund, the superstar of Sweden.
OK, I said I was going to ignore Action Books, but really I can’t talk about contemporary poetry without mentioning Korean poet Kim Hyesoon, who is really one of the greatest living poets. She’s got two books out with Action Books and a few more on the way, and one chapbook from Tinfish, all translated by Don Mee Choi. Here’s something Lisa Flowers wrote about her. She too partakes with some of the gurlesque/necropastoral vibes I’ve mentioned above. THere’s a whole bunch of awesome poets in South Korea right now, though they have not yet been translated to English (we’re working on it).
OK, that’s my quick post for the day. I’ve no doubt missed some great ones but this is a pretty good image of my idea of the greatest “contemporary US” poetry, or at least a start.
Those of you who have read this blog for some time, and/or read my last blog, Exoskeleton, knows that one of my interests is the use of anti-kitsch rhetoric in modern poetry (and by modern I mean from Wordsworth through Pound up to Perloff and beyond). The most dominant strain these days seem to be the “there’s too much” argument: there’s too much poetry being published, and too much bad poetry, so we can’t keep up, we can’t read it all, and most importantly (the subtext sometimes, sometimes just the text) we can’t police what’s good and bad.
Basically, it’s the anti-kitsch critique. Modern technology has brought poetry to the masses, now how do we make sure that they have taste? How do we keep this, what Joyelle has called the “plague ground” of contemporary poetry-writers/readers from forsaking our Taste, our narratives, our ideas about what poetry should be.
I kind of feel like I ‘ve written a lot about this… But this topic keeps popping up. Recently, there was recently a really great discussion over at Boston Review between Jed Rasual (my PhD thesis advisor) and the scholar Mike Chasar. And it’s really in response to that interview that I write this.
In particular, I think Chasar’s statements are some of the most insightful I’ve read (especially coming from an academic). In the discussion Jed, who is generally pretty suspicious of mass culture (his book “American Poetry Wax Museum” is both one of the best books about contemporary American poetry and a massive brick of anti-kitsch rhetoric) keeps expressing doubt about the proliferation of contemporary poetry, making it a symptom of capitalism etc.
I think Jed makes very good observations, but I think Chasar totally re-directs this conversation (by which I mean the larger conversation about “too much-ness”, not just the discussion with Jed) brilliantly:
My gut reaction (you could maybe call it my glut reaction) is to say that questions like “Is it a glut?” or “Is it a problem?” aren’t nearly as interesting as questions like “Who is it a problem for?” and “Why do those people think it’s a problem?” For critics like Burt, it’s a problem because it challenges what it means to be an “expert” in American poetry. Whenever someone’s status as expert is predicated on knowing everything—all the good poems (i.e., a canon), what everyone is saying, etc.—a glut is going to be a problem because, as Burt puts it, “I just can’t keep trying and failing to get myself to read everything,” and thus the governing paradigm for what it means to be a poetry expert is put into crisis; how can you be an arbiter of taste if you can’t read everything to pass judgment on it? Insofar as the centrality of Official Verse Culture is affected by a period of glut—where there is no longer an official center—then Official Verse Culture has a stake in the matter.
Shanna even connects Mansour to this very blog:
So she comes after Mina Loy, before Harryette Mullen, and is of the same generation as Sylvia Plath sans the early exit. She anticipates and perhaps influences (haven’t asked) some of the grotesquer corners of the Gurlesque as in work by Ariana Reines, Danielle Pafunda, Lara Glenum, and others; the Necropastoral as explored by Joyelle McSweeney, Johannes Göransson, and others; and the flamboyantly femme Flarf of Nada Gordon and Sharon Mesmer. I see her in Sandra Simonds’ work too. I see her, accidentally and by way of these others, in some of mine. It’d be interesting to read Kim Hyesoon’s Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers alongside Mansour’s Phallus & Mommies. I’m planning to spend a lot more time with her work, figuring out what she’s done (to me, to us, to poetry).
I talk about Mansour in this post from a while back.
“Two inmates sentenced for violence and theft, Juvenile Prison for Girls, 2008″
Depending on the havoc struck by Sandy, the Andrea Meislin Gallery in New York will be displaying Michal Chelbin’s striking photography show “Sailboats and Swans” until December 22. The title refers to the pastoral and fantastic fabrics and wallpapers which clothe the bodies and prisons in which Chelbin’s subjects, juvenile and female offenders, are incarcerated. In the irrational pastoralia of these cellblocks, boys sleep in military barracks under bucolic murals; girls convicted for assault pose in flowered dresses. The press release suggests,
These contradictions of life in prison abound in girls’ flowery dress prison uniforms, murderers working as nannies to other women’s babies in the new mothers’ prison, young girls serving time alongside grandmothers – perhaps witness to their own futures, and the mesmerizing human blend of fear and cruelty in the boys’ and mens’ prison – where big tattooed bodies are now zombie-like, worn down by the daily travails of trying to survive being locked up in a world devoid of hope.
With Sandy’s necropastoral proliferation bringing its damage to Manhattan, I’m sure none of our New York Montevidayans can take in this show for me and report back. But many images from this show are available on- line, and I find them extremely moving. In the ‘noplace’ of prison these incredibly youthful bodies are suspended from temporal linearity. The prisoners are “witness to their own futures” randomly removed from and reassigned new biological roles (murderers minding the babies of other mothers), locked up in kitsch landscapes in which fabrics and wallpaper have as much (or as little) agency as the human bodies themselves. The faces of the models are impassive yet something sears from these photographs, a force of life and/or death which, in the no-time of prison, can find no natural body but courses from surface to surface, form to form, looking for an egress but only finding the picture plane. As Artaud notes, “A little dead girl says: I am the one convulsed with horror in the live woman’s lungs. Get me out of here at once. ” The pain entrapped in these photos cannot exit through a punctum but saturates every object, frond, fabric, and form within the photo itself, everything trapped in its pane, like the bubble in Bishop’s Sonnet who can only find egress from the poem in that final exclamation point:
Caught – the bubble
in the spirit-level,
a creature divided;
and the compass needle
wobbling and wavering,
Freed – the broken
and the rainbow-bird
from the narrow bevel
of the empty mirror,
it feels like, gay!
Perhaps pain is like this frantic bubble, trying to push out of the photo via a Barthian punctum, yet finding its level always cruelly replenished, its impossible economy never reduced.
Confessionalism and Horse Fucking in the Necropastoral of Louise Glück, “Equus,” and Enumclaw, Washington
For my third annual post on art and the animal, I’m going to explore the moist, shadowy field where two taboos collide. Bestiality (actual and representational) and Confessionalism (poetic, Catholic, psychiatric, juridical) have been on my mind lately.
The thing about all this talk about hipsters and/or kitsch is that it’s about art: all poetry can be kitsch (and is according to many people) and all poetry-writers can be viewed as hipsters. I’m not interested in pro- or anti-kitsch poetry, or anti-hipster or pro-hipster poetry. I am interested in dealing with kitsch in a way that doesn’t fall back on these binaries but I also don’t want to move beyond them (to some pleasant world of American Hybrid or whatever), I don’t want to remove this trouble, this anxiety that is part of Art; an anxiety about looking, about uselessness, about excess, about Art’s occult powers and its drug-like “influence” that may ruin our identities as good, stable, progressive subjects with agency. As I noted in my last post I want the forms to rub up against each other, to chafe, to spasm. I want that excessive “foreign body lodged in the overall system of art” to continue to friction in the “system,” to turn it into a horror movie, a B-movie, a “phantom pregnancy,” a spasming necropastoral, a “parapornography.”
One genre that is often compared or made synonymous with kitsch is pornography: Like kitsch it’s too much about affect, too much about effects, too immediate, not properly mediated etc. And most of all, it’s got the “frenzy of the visual.” I think maybe porn can be a way of thinking about kitsch. Or vice versa.
Just yesterday I read Carl Michael Edenborg’s “Manifesto of Parapornography.” I should mention that C-M runs the important Swedish press Vertigo, which publishes de Sade and Apollinaire as well as contemporary writers like Nikanor Teratologen and Dennis Cooper and Samuel Delaney. He was also once a member of the same Surrealist Group of Stockholm that Aase Berg used to be part of). In this manifesto Edenborg argues is a move away from the rhetoric of both “pro-pornography” and “anti-pornography,” the two prevalent stances on pornography in our “post-pornography” society.
Edenborg argues against the system underlying both anti- and pro-pornography:
According to both, pornography is devoted to men’s fantasies of omnipotence, of a limitless access to and power over women, to never having to take no for an answer. Over and over again, it reassures men that they are phallic. Men will not accept that the very fact that they require this reassurement shows that they are already castrated, because that would subvert their pleasure. Women, on the other hand, are expected to react in the opposite way to pornography: with loathing and disgust.
According to Edenborg: While the pro and the anti depend on uncovering/defending a secret/truth/genitals/interiority, parapornography rejects this model and instead creates something that Edenborg compares to “quantum mechanics”: it can “extract endless excitment from the same skin flap” and “the mucous membranes are prismatic.” Instead of exteriority/interiority we get an undulating figure that admits poisons, a necropastoral pornography of the “spasming membrane” (Joyelle’s quote). This is Edenborg’s list of qualities of Parapornography:
The infinity of revealing
The exploded affection theory
The critical will to power
The violent pollution
Protesology and displacement
[This is the first part of a multiple part post about what I read this summer. This is just the background. More later.]
In Silver Proxy, Daniel Tiffany’s forthcoming book on kitsch, Tiffany traces the concept of kitsch back to the late 18th century and Wordsworth’s attacks on Gray and “poetic diction” – its “gaudy and inane phraseology.” According to Wordsworth, poetry should be “men speaking to men” and all that jive about realness and “rustic life.” (One of his main issues with poetic diction is that it’s impure, that is, that it synthesizes English with foreign languages, relevant I think to my claims that translation is kitsch.)
It’s in this context that Tiffany says that kitsch is about “excessive beauty,” a phrase we’ve been quoting on this blog for a while. Tiffany connects this rejection of poetic diction to the onset of industrialism capitalism and bourgeois culture, and more importantly, the idea of “Literature,” in which prose is considered superior and increasingly central, while poetry is considered increasingly marginal and ornamental (Wordsworth views his poetry as prose with metrics; metrics is not kitsch, but importantly what is left of poetry).
As I’ve often noted on this blog, “Surrealism” has in contemporary US poetry discussions become a new stand-in for this kind of kitsch, the kitsch of the “poetic” and “excessive beauty” (continue reading…)
Thomas Micchelli has an interesting essay about Nathalie Djurberg’s exhibit “The Parade,” now up at the New Museum in NYC:
Surrealism, like “dreamlike,” has become a meaningless catchall for anything transgressive or eerie. True surrealism, however, is shocking in its familiarity — the obsessions and cruelties played out in Djurberg’s films are the cravings we necessarily but too often unsuccessfully repress in order to carry on with our alleged civilization. The only difference between us and the images of Djurberg’s “Parade” is that they are closer to the mud than we prefer to believe we are. Their transgression is in their distillation of the everyday.
As in Joyelle’s necropastoral, it seems the plague is a subtext: art running like Artaud’s subterrenean plague. In the most upsetting piece, the one in which the “sons” torture their purple mother, the sons are wearing plague masks, but it doesn’t protect them against art – and it certainly doesn’t protect their mother… This art plague animates the entire collection into a spasmy, jerky “parade” that ultimately leads to the grotesque, materially occult moment of the last video, where the white man seems both corpse and patient, ravished or saved by the bird of paradise.