Michael Broder has a fab piece up at Huffington Post “Camping it Up in Ancient Rome a Queer Take on Catullus 16.”
I keep returning to his translation:
I will butt-fuck you and skull-fuck you,
Aurelius, you pussy-boy, and Furius, you cocksucker!
Both of you think I’m not man enough
because my little poems are a little soft.
But while a decent poet should be manly,
his bits of verse need not be manly at all.
In fact, poems are witty and charming
if they’re a little soft and a bit shameful,
and can get a rise, well, not out of boys perhaps,
but these hairy men who can barely get it up.
Because you read about my “many thousands of kisses,”
you think I’m not a real man?
I will butt-fuck you and skull-fuck you!
which reminds me in an anachronistic turnabout of the Deleuze and Guattari suggestion that we dig up dead philosophers and conduct on them similar acts (alias doctoral comprehensive exams, alias blogging, alias speech). Broder takes us into that weird orbit of pop/academy/poetry and calls:
my critics claim, I’m just hell-bent on “seeing us in them,” of finding evidence for gayness wherever I look in history. Both of these sins fall under the general charge of “presentism,” applying modern categories inappropriately to the past. But now I’m on The Huffington Post, not at an academic conference. You make the rules around here. So read on and tell me what you think.
Of Catullus Camp and camp’s more general unparsable narratives, he argues:
There’s another way in which Poem 16 is camp: the way Catullus pretends to buy into moral standards that he actually rejects. In defending himself against the charges of being effeminate, he does not go all “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” on us. Instead, he deflects. He says he can be manly while still writing unmanly poems, and that unmanly poems are witty and charming. He’s no sissy, he’s just pretending to be one for the entertainment value. Wink wink. Does Catullus really accept traditional Roman standards of masculinity? Which is the “real” Catullus, the manly Catullus who only writes mushy love poems to give hard-ons to hairy old men, or the sissy Catullus who begs Lesbia and Juventius for kisses? The fact is, we don’t know for sure which is real and which is pretend, and that’s precisely how camp works. Camp is all about insider audiences and outsider audiences. In the 1960s, drag queens were called “female impersonators” to make straight audiences feel more comfortable. They could believe that once the man in the dress went home, he was a “normal man,” just like them. Meanwhile, the camp audience members knew that after the show, the drag queen was going to the nearest gay bar to cruise some trade. Catullus is wielding that same kind of double-edged sword.
Ain’t no real citizens but us chickens.
Travelogue, love story, fairy tale, and reportage. Sarah Vap’s Arco Iris travels down the rabbit hole to South America. Her speaker visits the graves we’ve helped dig, and the bright landscapes we’ve long mined for wonder. She tries to buy absolution in the market. She tries to buy a cup of coffee.
She reminds us that we can’t tour history, which already owns us, and we can’t haggle our way out of bloodshed. Even the gentlest touch leaves a bruise, which bruise is all that keeps us from radically lonesome isolation.
Every last longing for human contact becomes an act of violence and each abject thing becomes a ghost that floats beside. This is the pact made by two people who have never wanted to be wrong or to think anything wrong. This is love, the chance to drown each other before we drown in the river.
In the wound of a stabbed cosmos, Rauan Klassnik’s moon–kin to Plath’s moon bald and wild–bucks against despair. A melted copy of La jetée, the ashes of the cult of Diana, the live-dead fingernail, fragments from the holocausts that feed us. Scabbed————Lobsided——Cunning & Swift——, Klassnik is not afraid of the cinema. Anytime we devour the queen, we will be forced to vomit her back up, a clean saint out of our foaming mouths. A pretty swell in the music.
We’re not afraid of the cinema. Which houses all our night-mares. We’re not afraid. Marble, Tequila, Rotted, Flapping. The myth of biological sex, the myth of biological stability [l]ike cathedral meat. Wrapped in a thin red towel.
Get it at the bookfair, cozy-posies.
Did you hear? Kate Zambreno has written a book about women, madness, writing, illness, the body, theft, fire, the Baroness, girlgossip, ballet, and cute shoes. She’s written a memoir that recognizes property as theft and then she thieves still, as we all do. She’s written wryly, thickly, bloodily, booooooringly, flippantly, critically, tenderly, with a fist full of questions. Right up in your ear with wet breath. & if you’re hawt for archives, Heroines has (silk) drawers full.
(Pssst: What are your automatic thoughts? Not the thoughts you norm or sensor. Do you think people are ugly? Do you want their money? Do you think you’re stupid? Do you think it? Recognize these automatic thoughts and assess how thoroughly you/I/we believe them, those unkempt possums.)
Anyhow: I’d love to see more reviews of Heroines that respond to Zambreno’s examination the effects of chronic illness (both mental and physical), consider the book’s critique of diagnosis, or otherwise give the disability shout-out. I should write that review, I suppose. Until then, I’ll give you the Hollywood-hangover analog reduction. I just watched The Grey, which contains an important lesson about masculinity-capitalism-ableism. One soaking-wet ice-cold hero (whose pretty lady–surprise ending!–spoiler!–died from some invisible illness, leaving him vulnerable/redeemable) half-alive on the shitty banks of wolf town, ready to fight the alpha with nickel nip knuckles. (Don’t get me wrong: I love you Liam Neeson survival films.) Or the heroine:
Recently, on his In Quire, the ever-thoughtful H.L. Hix asked me a question about my third book Iatrogenic, and in my answer, I said:
As I’m typing, I’m thinking about this: I accept that my interiority is culturally forged, and not very well forged. [...] I’m a breeder who revolts against the body-as-property equations of state and love. Gloria Anzadlúa tells us to develop (or that some of us in that third space will necessarily develop) a “tolerance for ambiguity.” I say, let’s go further. Let’s develop a predilection for ambiguity. Let’s elect it. Let’s become especially skilled at occupying our conflicted terrain, at describing the negative space of the ambiguous by filling in everything around it. This is feminist, which is synonymous with existential or ontological. This is an ontological option that I’m pursuing. Failure abounds. Edification is for the birds. Like an amalgam of my women “Who Chose…” and my Surrogates, I simultaneously choose and am chosen for. I am, and I be-as-constructed. I acknowledge these competing states (though state sounds too static a term). I’ll never (never.) own the means of production, my body, my heart, myself, but I’ll always feel indignant and possessive when someone else—some state entity, some authority or lover—puts claim on them.
I’d like to talk to you about this some more, voters. Meanwhile, bottoms up.
Here are some things I’ve been reading:
-G. Thomas Couser Signifying Bodies Disability in Contemporary Life Writing: are you writing a memoir? Do you have a body? Do you have a mind/body? This book is for you.
-Kim Q. Hall editor Feminist Disability Studies: thoroughly intersectional and provides a solid intro to disability studies. For a germinal introduction to the how and why of the discipline, Simi Linton’s Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity is most helpful.
-Ann Jurecic Illness as Narrative: I wish I had read this before I completed my pain poetics piece for ELN, but I didn’t, so now I just get to consider how Jurecic’s analysis of Elaine Scarry, Susan Sontag, and contemporary pain scholarship & narrative might influence its evolution. The overlap in our inquiries is a bit spooky, or else a very reasonable consequence of a sharp mind/body being/watching a body in pain. Bruno Latour’s “Why Critique Has Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern” informs her critical framework and seems v. relevant to what Johannes was talking about.
-Here are the memoirs I’ve read: Ann Finger Past Due: A Story of Disability, Pregnancy and Birth, Terry Galloway Mean Little Deaf Queer, Lucy Grealy Autobiography of a Face, and Jeanette Winterson Why be Happy When You Could be Normal. I appreciated these memoirs more having read Signifying Bodies first.
Over on the ever-thoughtful Cahiers de Corey, Joshua Corey considers his new book of poems and how it fits into the current contemporary poetics schemata. Montevidayo guest stars, and the sincerity discussion further ravels/unravels:
The drama of the book from a poetics standpoint comes in seeking alternatives to what Jennifer Moore has called “the aesthetics of failure” that she associates with poets like Matt Hart and Tao Lin, which others have begun to refer to as “the new sincerity” (itself hardly a new term or idea). For these poets, Moore claims, “this deliberate embrace of failure is worked out through an explicit departure from an allegedly exhausted aesthetic and a movement toward a renewed emphasis on emotion.”
Meanwhile from another direction you have the conceptualists pursuing, as Vanessa Place and Rob Fitterman have put it,“strategies of failure” (Place tries to one-up Beckett in this interview: “fail again, fail worse”). And then in one of the liveliest quarters of the post-post-avant you have the aesthetic of the Montevidayans with their devotion to the political grotesque, to body-centered excess that pursues not “failure,” exactly, but an aggressive interrogation of the political-social structures that undergird the very notion of “success,” embracing poetry specifically (along with video nasties and other modes of marginalized spectacle) precisely for its weakness, its oddity, its place as a kind of malfunctioning prosthetic that calls attention to a profound and irremediable lack.
These three major aesthetics of failure, so predominant in poetry now, are just the latest reactions to (Joyelle McSweeney would say a zombie version of) a barred Romanticism, which I will simply and probably ahistorically define as a stance that assumes the mutual dependence of self and world, or if you prefer, freedom and determination. To continue to speak broadly and crudely, for a long time in American postwar poetry the self bestrode the world like a colossus, in sincere or grotesque manifestations (sincerely grotesque in the case of a Confessionalist like Sylvia Plath). Then as the tide of French theory began to slop against these shores we saw a new predominance of the world in the most interesting poetry, though “the world” appears in different guises: as heavily theorized social text for the Language poets, as gossip and theater for the New York School and its epigones. Now I would say that the self has been fully and completely invaded by the world/the other (on a DNA level, as a prism for the Spectacle, etc.), having been systematically deranged not by and for poetry but by the mediation of systems whose surfaces have never been more accessible (thanks to the Internet) even as their levers (who the boss?) and nodal points (the “tubes” of the real) have never been more obscure. The self wants to make a comeback, but it can only do so through some mode of abjection and surrender. What concerns me, for poetry, is that what’s being surrendered in at least the first two versions of failure before us is poetry itself, or more specifically, two of its three major dimensions.
He also says of Montevidayans poetry: “I think theirs remains a primarily image-based poetics.” I wonder if this is so. Two thoughts (in which I get oddly troubled by what image means): 1. I’m currently writing a mess of a feminist poetics piece for Evening Will Come. A femimess, where I consider speech as a sense/sensory organ (Embassytown!). Is an image rendered in what we most obviously regard as language a visual element? 2. Corey suggests a preoccupation with the visual image (or image apprehended via the eye first, ear second re: film?). I tend to think of my own work as affect-based, but do I rely primarily on image to produce it? Does the political grotesque demand this? What about Joyelle, whose musicality and soundscape Corey appreciates? Or Johannes, with his pageantry structures? Lara? Carina? Borzutzky? Mary? Lucas? Ji Yoon? Sarah? Dan? Etc.?
I’m also tempted to say that the self can only, could only ever manifest via abjection and surrender, but that’s rather absolute, and probably a formulation I’m drawn to for reasons more macabre than well-considered. I’ll get back to us on this one. Meanwhile, a field of plastic savannah animals are yelling at me can we hide from the street cleaner?!, so in this daycare-free zone, Montevidayans, I can only get the conversation started. Jump off wherever you like!
The excellent new issue of PANK Magazine has some excerpts from The Book of Scab, my fake-ish memoir epistolary novel ‘under the sign of poetry’ (a phrase I borrow from our brilliant friend Kate Zambreno). This includes MP3s of me reading the excerpts wherein you cannot hear my teenaged neighbor playing a warbly, tripped-out electric guitar version of the melody to Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” but rest assured I could. The first excerpt is ars poetica re: beauty & sincerity:
Dear Mom and Dad,
I wanted to make something clean. Don’t you know? I wanted to make something that was not porous, no matter how closely you looked—and not you, but your machine, lens exponential in its uncompromising pronouncement. Something without fleck or pore, without texture. I wanted to make a surface that exceeded all classical efforts in its commitment to beauty. I did, then. Like everyone.
Did I lose my taste for beauty, or did I just cross into the room where its mask was worn?
(The second is all crush-abduction–maybe a hint of Johannes’s Dear Ra Shirley Temple gender-inverted–and the third has psychic powers, FYI. Includes melodramatic sincerity & brattiness. No sadcore tigers, yet, unless you count Mötley Crüe.)
Carina Finn’s throwdown “MELODRAMA IS THE NEW SINCERITY” reminds us that in order to convince the normate (see Rosmarie Garland-Thomson) of one’s sincerity, a feminine subject must do things like widen her eyes, tear up (real or with irritants; see America’s Next Top Model crying photo shoots), dilate her pupils with physical effort-conjuring-special drops (movies often use the drops; pupil dilation also conveys sexy feelings and possible anime conversion!), tilt her head (trust; exposed jugular; etc.), spread her hands out in front of her (see “The Girl Without Hands” Grimm 031), and show restraint in the face (on the face!) of overwhelming emotion (see Boris Kachka on Joan Didion in the recent New York Magazine: “Both The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights are recognizably memoirs of grief, but they’re rendered in Didion’s familiar remote voice. It’s an oddly effective fit: Her coolness plays against the genre’s sentimental excesses but still allows her to avoid argument and indulge in open-ended reveries built from repetitions of painful facts.”).
It’s not surprising. Identity studies has long demonstrated that if marginalized subjects wish to communicate sincerity, trustworthiness, honesty, and the like to those in power, they must early on learn to properly perform humble and subjugated gestures. & since none of us is a performance-bot, these embodiments become complex messaging systems (see, for instance, George Yancy Black Bodies, White Gazes). Like any other, the learned sincerity-performance may be internalized, may become a central component of the subject’s experience of essential self. When I meet your eye, widen my eyes, when I blink back the tears, am I revealing myself or my construction? I’m sure I don’t know. (continue reading…)
My essay from 2010′s American Poet is now up on The Academy of American Poets site. I talk about bodies, pregnancy, vulnerability, intimacy, nerves, shame, brutal lighting–my usual haunts. Via Dodie Bellamy (guest appearance by *Barf’s* Eileen Myles & piñata), Aase Berg, Maxine Chernoff, Tory Dent, Toi Derricotte, Lara Glenum, Susan Howe (Mary Rowlandson!), Hiromi Ito, Mina Loy, Marianne Moore, Alice Notley, D.A. Powell, Elaine Scarry (paired w/ Eugen Baer’s bizarre *Medical Semiotics*, I’ll never stop doing that!), Anne Sexton, Cathy Wagner, Rebecca Wolff (re: Not for Mothers Only), Rachel Zucker, etc.
Though pregnancy and motherhood are hardly synonymous (all modes of child-getting to become mother, all modes of identity in the wake of the body occupied), I think it’s been posted in time for the weekend. Happy Mama Day if it applies to you & yours in any fashion, Montevidayans! Happy Body Day is Everyday if you’ve got one! (Did anyone else read Hilary Mantel’s hospital Diary in the LRB?)
Here’s a bit of my essay where I survey some of our Action compadres:
Along with the image of the mother as empty vessel or compassionate servant, we find the gentle mother, the soft and nurturing hand, Mother Nature, the sheltering bosom. When a mother is cruel to a child, an innocent, a cute animal, the world turns inside out. In the popular imagination, mothers who commit acts of cruelty are “monsters.” Berg’s use of deer, foxes, squirrels, and guinea pigs, as Lara Glenum points out:
radically upends the notion that women…are free from sadistic compulsion and cruelty…The preoccupation…with all things cute, perhaps, speaks not to their attraction to things that mirror their own innocence but to things that mirror their own abjection and fear of further deformity; it reflects the degree to which they have already found themselves stripped of significant social agency.
Here are the adorable deformed animals in Berg’s “In the Heart of Guinea Pig Darkness”:
The gorge is swarming with guinea pigs. They crawl on each other like spiders…The guinea pigs are swarming and crawling around on the gigantic guinea-pig queen’s sensitive, swollen egg-white body. She gives birth and groans, she moans and bleeds. Everywhere the membranes, everywhere their bloated puff bellies. We run with the heart in the tunnel, you and I, while nervous systems break down behind us, while the amniotic fluid surges in the pumping, pulsing chasm.
Unsurprisingly, the spooky multiplicity of selves doesn’t disappear in the postpartum. Berg’s Transfer Fat fuses cute and massive animals in an effort to fathom the disturbingly illogical postpartum experience of being devoured by a darling creature:
the hare skindry the whale heavy of the bag’s fatmilk
Just as these humanoid animals disrupt our sense of body and boundary, the mangled and spliced language intensifies our sense of unheimlich.
Lara Glenum’s own Maximum Gaga takes on the pathology of heterosexual unions and their inevitable offspring with a ferocious grin:
Mino feeds at one end of me
The Normopath at the other…
of my blubber suit
Two feeding tubes dangling from my chest…
The animals my skin could not contain
are clanging through the hospital.
In the portion of the book that reads as a play, “Meat Out of the Eater,” the character of Queen Naked Mole Rat is staged thusly:
[... The Queen sits on the couch, her ribcage cranked open to
display nine tea-cups dangling on hooks. In each tea-cup, baby rats are
continually born and tumble out of her body to scavenge on the floor.]
It is worth noting that in the real world of naked mole rats, a queen might have up to twenty-eight babies in a litter, and that one human baby can often feel like twenty-eight.
A new translation of Japanese radical feminist poet Ito Hiromi titled Killing Kanoko contains the poem by the same name, a blunt exploration of infanticide:
Kanoko eats my time
Kanoko pilfers my nutrients
Kanoko threatens my appetite
Kanoko pulls out my hair
Kanoko forces me to deal with all her shit
I want to get rid of Kanoko
I want to get rid of filthy little Kanoko
I want to get rid of or kill Kanoko who bites off my nipples
I want to get rid of or kill Kanoko
Before she spills my blood
I have committed infanticide
Ito’s other works, transgressive and shamanistic, explore the dark, absurd, and glorious potentials of the female body, its sexuality and reproduction, resituating these, as Jerome Rothenberg says “somewhere between bliss & nightmare.”