[Hi all rejects and deviants. I meant to write this a while ago but somehow didn't, then reading Christian Peet's post yesterday and rereading Johannes and Joyelle's previous posts on the Memphis three reminded me of it.]
Some Thoughts on Masculinity (Or Whatever)
A couple of weeks ago I had a vivid dream in which I was writing a manifesto. It was one of those dreams when you wake up and feel terribly regretful and disappointed because you were doing something awesome. Writing the manifesto was coming very easy and it was full of exciting hyperbole and many different fonts and exclamation marks. Something about a “thin veneer”? I could see the text but it was blurry. I’m pretty sure it was a manifesto about masculinity. I don’t remember if it was for or against.
I think what made me think about masculinity more than usual was watching an episode of 20/20 a couple of months back and this interview they were doing with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o which made me write the following (grammatically suspect, but impassioned) post on facebook:
(yes, I’m officially using my own facebook post as a reference)
“so i finally got caught up on this manti te’o thing. the crime seem to be two-fold. 1) to as a man (and football player, a symbol of masculinity and violence) be duped and otherwise victimized (how come you didn’t suspect anything?) not just by a woman but another (lesser) man. it’s an interesting conflict of interest, confess to involvement and retain your masculinity. consider last weeks brief mention of crabtree’s suspected sexual assault and many others, violent crimes don’t contradict the story line of masculinity. if the culprit had been a woman it could possibly had been explained by women’s general devious nature and offered some relief, instead there are creepy gay undertones (“she sounded like a woman”) leading to 2) the suspected use of a dead girlfriend to further own “overcome” story-line, an overcoming that is quickly adapted by media as an integral part of character building. the hoax then doesn’t just reduce manti’s masculinity index which corresponds directly to his drafting number but threaten to turn a digestible success story into a collective gorging on dead bodies. phew. did i get close?”
Thinking about masculinity in this way reminded me of a Swedish poet that made his debut a number of years ago when I still lived in Sweden and it was widely written about at the time (or so I recall) mainly because he was something so weird as a hockey player who turned to poetry, writing poems about what goes on in those testosterone-packed towel-slapping don’t-be-a-pussy locker rooms.
I had to google for a while to find out that his name is Tom Malmquist and the book fittingly called “Sudden Death”. Here is a blurb (translated) that I like (for the writer, not the book:)
“He’s written about hockey as oppression-mechanism and about men who breast-feed, is a country singer, have dental trolls rather than groupies and like to root around masculinity’s hole.” (See)
Apparently his second collection is called Fadersmjölken (“Fathersmilk”, if you allow the merger). There is a poem from it at that link but I couldn’t decide how to translate words like “uppdragna” and “sugreflexen” so I got frustrated and didn’t.
Also, one of his country songs is called “Van Gogh’s Ear”, which I wanted to like more than I did.
It’s on youtube somewhere.
I’ve always loved both poetry and sports. I don’t really see the contradiction. It’s costumage, it’s beautiful, a spectacle of nothing but its own spectacle.
I posted that quote about Lovecraft earlier today and since then I’ve been thinking about his work and what it means by going “overboard.” In Lovecraft it most certainly has to do with the monsters. The fact that they actually come along. They are too much there. In the classic “The Call of Cthulhu” for example, there is all of this frame-narrative build-up, but then the actual Cthulhu actually shows up, floats out of his under-sea sleep.
This is the essence of bad taste, of going overboard, in a modernist paradigm based on absence. Perhaps the paradigmatic work of modernism in this regard is Waiting for Godot, in which obviously Godot never comes. I read so many poems about absence, what never shows up, poems as build up. These poems know that it would be crass to actually have Godot show up the way Cthulhu shows up.
(When I said this to Joyelle, she pointed out that while Godot doesn’t show up, those other two figures show up with the dog-and-pony show, and I think that’s why Beckets’ play is awesome. Perhaps also the way Godot is so absent his presence becomes overwhelming. Maybe Godot is a bad example, but it’s all I can think of right now.)
I remember in a workshop I was in more than 10 years ago, one student (continue reading…)
What opposes Lovecraft to the representatives of good taste is more than a question of details, HPL would probably have considered a story a failure, if in writing it he did not have a chance to go overboard once at least. This can be proven a contrario by his pronouncement regarding the work of a peer: “[Henry] James is perhaps too diffuse, too unctuously urbane, and too much addicted to subtleties of speech to realise [sic] fully all the wild and devastating horror in his situations…”
- Michel Houellebecq, from H.P. Lovecraft: against the World, Against Life
“…bigger and more slippery than any single view of Patriarchy”: Joseph Harrington on Sarah Fox’s The First Flag
The title refers to Lloyd DeMause’s claim that “the placenta of the pharaoh was placed on a pole and carried into battle. This is history’s first flag.” Many of the poems turn on such powerfully resonant images, but there is a hermeneutic suppleness here, a fear and trembling when dealing with signs (in all meanings of the word). They remain overdetermined in the original (psychoanalytic) sense: generating too many meanings to be reduced to only one. “The solstice moon // pretends to be a cross in the sky. / It’s like the third eye of God / the boy, only rabbitish”: the ultimate Dianic symbol turns into Constantine’s conquering sign, that of the male (son) god. But it only pretends; it’s like a yogic third eye; it retains its rabbit. The father with a thousand faces seems alternately protective and threatening, both the surveilling “Man Who Stands Behind Me” and the wisdom-dispensing “Medicine Man” (133). “Father-shadowed entities gaze, / they root and coil and hunger, tongue my every / aspect. If they weren’t the only him I had / I’d ask the birds to peck out his eyes” (2). One gets the sense that this “father” is bigger and more slippery than any single view of Patriarchy – is maybe even a self-aware part of the daughter’s “birth sign.”
However, The First Flag frankly confronts and aims to change chemical, political, and physical violence against women. Fox is a “D.E.S. daughter,” (continue reading…)
West Memphis, Witch Hunters, and the Cult of the Violent Femme: Christian Peet on “The West Memphis 3″
West Memphis, Witch Hunters, and the Cult of the Violent Femme
By Christian Peet
Rather than rehashing issues of exculpatory evidence and procedural travesties in the still-unsolved triple-child-homicide and triple-wrongful-conviction that is the case of of West Memphis
Three Six, Joyelle’s and Johannes’s recent essays chart some interesting new territory — see “Metallica, The West Memphis Three, and the Narcissism of the Law” and “‘Paradise Lost’: Violent Femmes, Hysterical Masculinity and the Threat of Art (pt 1).” In a future post, I’d like to engage Joyelle’s observations — specifically “Art’s occult movements, its paradoxically linked power and obscurity,” and the ability of Narrative to “exercise a ‘real’ force” not only on the historical record but on the bodies of its “characters” — via an examination of the power of Magic(k)al Narratives, in the absence of inculpatory evidence, to secure from spell-bound juries what Marianne Moore might have called “real convictions for imaginary crimes.” The following touches on those ideas, but only in my attempt to discuss the “strange sexuality” that Johannes sees in the West Memphis case, as well his notion of “the threat of Violent Femme,” both of which I examine in the context of the imagined sexual violence in the case as well as Prosecutors’ (conjoined-) twin obsessions with inversions of religious rites and perversions of sexuality — obsessions that are by no means limited to the not-so-metaphorical witch trial in West Memphis, of course, but that enjoy a history of at least a couple thousand years even in the narrow context of persecution / prosecution.
I should also note that Joyelle and Johannes both tend to write from the perspective of discussing Art / Literature, while I am presently doomed to see everything in terms of the plodding banality of crime; the only Art I discuss anymore, or so it seems, being the aforementioned Prosecutorial Magic, and the only “literature” the most depressing collection of nonfiction tomes on crime, particularly sex crimes, as well as (or, rather, including) our species’ long history of persecuting those among us whom we believe are “beyond redemption,” etc.
1. ACTUAL TRIPLE HOMICIDE V. THE SPECTRE OF” SATANIC HOMOSEXUAL CHILD SEXUAL ASSAULT AND MUTILATION (continue reading…)
[This is by Sandy Florian.]
When we think about Latino Literature, we often think about a certain kind of Latino Literature, a type of sociological or ethnographic literature that gives voice to people with Latin American heritages who grew up in the Latino ghettos of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Rightfully, those voices are canonized and taught in classrooms, presumably in celebration of the cacophony of multi-cultural America. What happens, though, when someone who claims to be a Latina writer doesn’t write directly about her heritage? What happens when the African American student writes whatever the hell she pleases? We are told we aren’t “really Latina,” that we aren’t “black enough,” by our peers, our professors, our own people. We are told that our writing doesn’t contend with the struggle of being a minority, different, an “other.” If we want to write novels and poetry without place or placement, we have to quietly erase our heritages and try our damnedest to be white.
In an article about art, Johannes writes that he got into an argument with a Latino poet who claimed I am not a Latina writer, and I’ve been thinking about this for some time now, namely because claims on my heritage seem to be blocking my professional path. And I’ve been doing a bit of research here and there in preparation for a long and angry sabbatical. I won’t get into postcolonial theories here, though, because here I would like to explore this problem personally.
To the point, I am Latina through and through. My mother is a native of Puerto Rico and my father is a native of Colombia. (continue reading…)
So I totally understand people who don’t want to go to the AWP for this or that reason, but the fact is that Raul Zurita gave a couple of readings this year as well as appeared on a panel on the translation of Latin American poetry, so I’m happy I went.
I’m teaching his book Purgatory (trans. Anna Deeny) in my creative writing classes, and I’m re-reading this amazing book. I think CD Wright does a great job in her Foreword. This morning, I am intrigued by this passage from her essay:
“Despite the savage despair he experienced while writing Purgatory, Zurita matched despair with ferocity, deploying his own formal inventiveness and skill to compose the poem that would stand as both a subwoofer attack on tyranny and a work of never-ending strangeness.”
So much of discussions about political poetry in the US is still bound up with the idea of efficacious simplicity and the idea that “strangeness” (ie Art) is apolitical, is decadently luxurious, without a point; that in order to be truly political we must turn away from strangeness. Wright sees the political dimension of “strangeness,” but the politics has to do with “match[in]” the desperate situation in some way with strangeness.
Zurita himself writes something similar in his preface:
“When faced with horror, we had to respond with art that was stronger and more vast than the pain and damage inflicted on us. I believe this is what I thought in 1975, a year and a half after the military coup. It was then that a few soldiers subjected me to one of those typical abuses in which they are experts. I recalled the well-known evangelical phrase: If someone strikes your right cheek, turn the other to him. So I burned my left cheek. Completely alone, I enclosed myself in a bathroom and burned it with a red-hot branding iron. Purgatory began with that laceration.”
Again, Zurita here “match[es]” the torture of the fascist soldiers with his art. He doesn’t merely turn the other cheek, he usurps their position as violators. I’m fascinated by this kind of “strange” “match[ing].”
“The sound the body makes is akin to the sound toys make when they burn.” I sent a letter to Rudolf Eb.er, infested as I was by his Hate Operation and cut-up, assemblage, shrieks, psycho-acoustic shamanism. He wore meat on his face, a white shirt and black necktie: screaming meat. There were sealed vomit tubs in the closet, an unfinished painting by the bedroom. We listened to a live recording from Taipei, smoked Japanese to death. Pictures of unknown bodies. Pictures of the insides of bodies. My autopsies went unanswered–that defenestration from Austria, somewhere in Osaka (not the Overlook or the Shining Mansion on the Hill).
“This novel is written like a fashion show dedicated to the rioted body.” For a noise act in Tokyo, I took a cheap white shirt, a shirt and smeared it–dirtied it red, made it better. The photographs that were taken on the were tinted in the screams and shrieks, moans and anti-language of the foreigner. It yellowed and hardened until it turned fashion. Lesson: sometimes the body can be tearing apart a fish with contact mics, a folk loop.
The Correct Sadist, by Terence Sellers
“Mercy, mercy, mercy me
I’m so scared, please comfort me
I don’t wanna be, don’t wanna be
Your back street boy
Hanging ‘round the House of Joy
Helen of Troy—“
Pretend there is an underground. Bands unheard of, playing hard to get, paintings sight unseen. Authors of oblivion: rumors; sightings. Here then gone for (the higher) good. No search engines or rewind but sudden undocumentably strange encounters of a fugitive kind.
When Jean Michel Basquiat’s very temporary group Gray played their 1/4-second-long songs fans applauded wildly, yelling “Less! Less!”
Terence Sellers/Angel Stern wrote a raft of books, one surfaced: The Correct Sadist, self-published on Vitriol ‘83 then by Grove in 1985. She holds a degree in forensic psychology from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. I flopped tracking her by Internet or even on hard ground, NYC Doomsday Y2K. Yet, bare teeth bred, when I get my nose open I bring down my prey. So, I brought her at last to bay.
We sashay to Café Jean Claude looking recherché. “My House of Domination?” Angel feigns a pout, insouciant, bemused. “It’s like a Cadillac dealership. Uh oh. In an economic crisis luxuries are always first to go.”
While her tomb-world text includes instruction, case histories, plus role-play-dead Discipline & Punish reparteé, what looms loud is its esoteric, almost Tantric training lyric meant to cut a diamond strictness into the Superior’s mind.
“Like some exotic monster I rarely emerged from the green darkness of the ocean floor, where my frail phosphorescence lit the way. These light and fluent creatures, who fled easily to watery surfaces and air I envied; I wondered at their careless trust in a foreign light. I surface slowly into their bright and confused stream to find they care nothing about my icy home below. They know that to follow me would be their death as slowly the terrible pressure crushed their bodies. Enough that they are well-amused by my lurid coloring and profusion of antennae.”
“Oops! Silly me. I totally forgot. I left a German broker bound and gagged back on the rack. Let’s close with profiteroles, then I suppose we ought to go.”
When a masochist pleads, “Beat me; beat me!” the best Sadists say, “No.”
Her dungeon’s five floors up in a New York Hell’s Kitchen shotgun apartment. One room is convertible, doing double duty as torture chamber/charming parlor when her Pueblo of Pain hosts no craven slaves. Its shoddiness surely shows the force of Freud’s wish fulfillment. You gotta really wanna make believe to fetishize that K Mart tent-pole cage.
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.