Friday, December 29, 2006
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
----R.I.P The Hardest Working Man in Show Business
Time, plenty of time, but also an absence of things to say, or perhaps only an absence of saying.
Quitting smoking (too many -ings) for the first time in, oh, since the hospital month twenty years ago [that will end the things you don't know about me broadcast]. And so "I" disobeys "me"--an em-dash separates 'em-- more than usual.
Lots of excellent reading, though. So perhaps, after a few months of hearing myself talk too frequently, the intake/outtake valves are just switched. About a hundred pages into Against the Day, and so far nothing but everything, too many names, theme webs and the torch of narration passed from character to character. Anarcho-syndicalists (distinctly far from any poetics) and the Archduke Ferdinand. Secrets about secrets about nothing. I've been thinking that what I love, or one of the things I love, about Pynchon is one of the things I love about Notley--that digging around the interred structures of the left-behind (preterite is Pynchon's word) of history and worldsystems, the lumpens and enthusiasts and ghosts come too early or too soon or both or not at all. And a willingness to keep tossing out language until something catches--the zinger somehow shifting the magnetic orientation of all of the merely ecumenical language, the cliches, the schtick. Go in fear of nothing written, they say.
Read Inger Christensen's Alphabet (recom'd/mentioned by Johannes, who has been, despite our disagreements, an excellent source of recommendations). I love the furious horizontality of it, its refusal of spurious nature/culture borderlines, and the way that the language of absolute north turns both utopian and apocalyptic. Images of natural harmony and the total absence of life whipped into a kind of emulsion. For what is more harmonious than nothing, really? The whiteness of the summer sky: a wintersummer. I remember thinking a great deal about what the particularities of summer light-- corrosive, diffuse, blindwhite--could do in Bergman's B&W films, and how far it is from any of the valences that light takes on in American films post-noir. Sort of a similar thing here.
Also another recommendation by way of Johannes:--Monica de La Torre's translation of Gerardo Deniz's poems. [It's worth mentioning that the two Lost Roads books I have--this one, and Kamau Brathwaite's Trench Town Rock--are beautifully, lusciously produced, advocates of the plain style chap be damned. And yet, still relatively cheap. How do they do it?] As for the poems--baroque, decrepit, concupiscent, one side of the mouth talking to the other side about how best to address the snorkelists in the audience. Echoes of Vallejo, too, to my ear: the latinate, scientific diction, the rhetorical podium-effects. Insistence on the body, on the base and material. Pathos of the classifier, the lepidopterist, trying to de-shambles nature in the middle of a war, Shambhala it, alakazam! When I came across this passage, with the wonderful phrase "feverish laziness," in Michel Foucault's lectures "Society Must Be Defended," I couldn't help but think of Deniz:
After all, the fact that the work I described to you looked both fragmented, repetitive, and discontinuous was quite in keeping with what might be called a "feverish laziness." It's a characteristic trait of people who love libraries, documents, references, dusty manuscripts, texts that have never been read, books which, no sooner printed, were closed and then slept on the shelves and were only taken down centuries later. All this quite suits the busy inertia of those who profes useless knowledge, a sort of sumptuary knowledge, the wealth of a parvenu--and, as you well know, its external signs are found at the foot of the page. It should appeal to all those who feel sympathetic to one of those secret societies, no doubt the oldest and the most characteristic in the West, one of those strangely indestructible secret societies that were, I think, unknown in the early Christian era, probably at the time of the first monasteries, on the fringes of invasions, fires, and forests. I am talking abou the great, tender and warm freemasonry of useless erudition. (4-5)
Monday, December 18, 2006
Yesterday, while I was still squinting into the strange light of the comment that "globalization is so passé" I encountered, in the comments cave of Ron's blog, an escapee from The Valve, who thought that all poems made from cut-up bits of other language have the same meaning: ie, that we here readers are very confused and sad solipsistic citationeers and pasters. There are numerous problems with this argument, not least of which is assuming that poetry is about the construction of meaning and the transmission of authorial inten-yawn!-tions. It's also true that if the anonym (well, he practices what he preaches, huh?) whose redaction of the scholarship of Walter Benn Michaels is right there's only about five things we can say to each other (one of them clearly the following evasive action taken by students who are afraid of literature: but, then, can't you just say anything about it? What did Sophocles really mean?) The answer is no: there are an infinity of numbers between 0 and 1, but 4 isn't one of them. But, more importantly, what my remarks on Degentesh's book show is how collage is not simply, not only, a negative process: "cut-up" in this sense is misleading, for if cutting only were what a Dada poem, or a Berrigan poem, were about, it would not be a poem, but the instructions: cut up this thing (in which case there is still "meaning" in the "this thing". Even "cut up everything" has meaning, as long as everything does). Poetry of this sort is also constructive, as much a "cut-up" as a "put-together." And the forms of putting-together are nearly infinite. If the sign-o-phobic want to call this "intention," that's fine by me; if they choose to think of it as the indication of a wider field of expression and experience, even better. In any case, Degentesh says it better than I can:
As a Youngster I Was Suspended from School One or More Times for Cutting Up
Everyone knows about Dallas
and its acts of terrifying gorgeousness
a chef in a tall hat piping meringue
discussing the "brain drain"
dropped a slab of concrete on his left foot
before being lured to the guitar
doesn't recall details of cutting up friend
to create fake masterpiece
when Dorrington came home unexpectedly and found
flight atendants ready to undergo radical surgery
I've been cutting up Vipers more and longer than anyone I know
the severed sea bream head washed down the river on a chopping board
The class batted it around in a bloodless little battle of the sexes
and I just started branching out to dogs and cats.
The boar is cut up and the hounds are fleshed.
So far we've concentrated on the whole hog
a popular euphemism for saying that someone doesn't like
our size and age differences
Like cutting up and depositing the body of a camel
in the drawing of a dinosaur head
and sewing it to other stuff like duck or squab
or radioactively contaminated tools and equipment
I sat on the back of our sofa listening eagerly
constantly at my dad's side fishing
going to the local coin shop with my dad
in small-bore slow-fire events
paths only modern-day Cowboys or Indians would travel
Slice off both sides close to the seed to create two halves of
The Moon, which rises while the men are cutting up the whale carcass.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Of all the many, many devastating statistics and descriptions in Mike Davis' "Planet of Slums" (the article from New Left Review, available here, not the book of the same name)--for instance, that "[t]he labour-power of a billion people has been expelled from the world system [into the informal economy]" or that [the Gini coefficient of .067] was mathematically equivalent to a situation where the poorest two-thirds of the world receive zero income; and the top third everything"--it's this one (which conveys, somehow, both the real desperation of urban poverty in Africa and the limits of empirical knowledge) that I couldn't stop thinking about today:
With even formal-sector urban wages in Africa so low that economists can't figure out how workers survive (the so-called 'wage puzzle'), the informal tertiary sector has become an arena of extreme Darwinian competition amongst the poor.
Obviously, he's excellent at showing how all of this is the result of IMF and World Bank policies in the 80s and 90s. But there's also an excellent comparison of the situation in Asia, Africa and Latin America now with urban poverty in the late 19th century, as well as a provocative account of Pentecostalism (which started in Los Angeles)in Latin America. Now I look forward to reading the book, which should be out in paperback soon, if it isn't already.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Having read a great deal of less-than-thrilling criticism on O'Hara in the last month, I wanted to put a good word in for Lytle Shaw's recent monograph, FO'H: The Poetics of Coterie (Iowa, 2006), not only because I think it's valuable, but also because it speaks to some recent and not-so-recent blogification about that dread term community. In all honesty, I expected to dislike this book, expected a biography with lots of extra words, if you will.
Part of the success of the book is its definition of coterie as both a concept within the poems and a milieu where the poems are written--a mosaic of proper names (and places, and vanished or vanishing particulars) as well as the friends and contempories with which these names never quite match. Shaw is particularly good on the way that O'Hara's sidelong, spatial notions of poetic influence (and his eccentric choices of predecessors) uncouples him from the family romance of "Tradition and the Individual Talent."Needless to say, it's a useful counter to the genealogical post-its over at Dad's place. Obviously, it's difficult not to read the genealogical model as hetero- and the coterie one as homo-, but Shaw doesn't overstate this point, and he's careful to show how Auden, for instance, buys into the heritage model late in life. The following citation is nicely representative:
He recodes alliances by replacing the organic and fixed social model of the
family with a contingent and shifting association of friends. He recodes
filiation not merely by refusing to produce offspring but also by refusing to be
one. O'Hara's attempt to exit the filiative model of the Great Tradition is
coincident both with his cultivation of obscure, often campy, genealogical
precedents and with his frequently heretical readings of canonical authors. (29)
Which, of course, begs the question, which Shaw doesn't really address, of why O'Hara becomes the founder, then, of a new tradition (or anti-tradition). Why, then, the New York School (if you believe this exists, as I tend to believe)? Why does this particular writerly mode have such legs? The answer, I suppose, is that in refusing to be an heir to a particular tradition, he refuses to let you be one either--no Oedipal complex because: no parents. The house is ours. Don't listen to me.
But then, of course, there's the dark side of coterie--here exemplified by Pound's circle at St. Elizabeth's. I do wonder, though, if this doesn't understate the way in which the celebrity of the outsider tends to follow these kinds of networks whether one wants it to or not.
The best chapter in the book (and strangely, the one I'm most uncomfortable with) is his reading of O'Hara's art writing alongside "Ode to Willem de Kooning." He's quite convincing in showing how O'Hara's writerly performances of active, proximate engagement and identification with painting debunks some of Greenberg's and Michael Fried's claims about the immediacy and self-enclosure of AbEx painting, as well as preparing the way for the neo-figurative paintings of his closer friends, as well as early proto- pop art like Rauschenberg's. I'd always thought that the relationship was between O'Hara and painting was sort of overstated, but Shaw convinces me here. But what doesn't work in this chapter, despite everything that does, is what doesn't work in almost every other piece of O'Hara criticism I've seen: that is, a unwillingness to be critical. In the end, almost everyone except for Roland Barthes (ventriloquized by Bob Perelman) makes Frank into a hero. So, when Shaw starts to claim O'Hara distances himself from the macho primitivism, and the search for wildness, of AbEx painting, I'm less than fully convinced. Thank god O'Hara could read those French poets, I say. Somebody needed to. But all of that exoticizing of blackness, the valences of "Africa" in his poems? I think it's important to call that out--ambiguous and perhaps well-intentioned as it often is-- especially seeing that so many of today's poets (in the search for some kind of functional negativity) are looking to reinhabit (recolonize/decolonize?) "the wilds" with a bit more political consciousness. There are great examples of this and, well, some not so great ones. And no doubt, some regrettable but unavoidable part of modernism starts with a encounter with the racial other. All I'm saying: I never fail to cringe when I read the lines "There are several Puerto Ricans on the Avenue today, which / makes it beautiful and warm." And so it is with a certain amount of satisfaction that I read Barthes (a.k.a. Perelman) responding to this particular moment: "Ah, Mr. American Imperial Artist, you were so happy, in your walks, in your world." It is a poetry that admits its own fallibility, no? We could give it that.
Monday, December 11, 2006
I hope to be posting here a bit more in the next month or so now that I've finished my two-years of French in six months gauntlet. Write to me in French! I need the practice.
As for the incredible volume of spam that manages to get through UC Berkeley's e-mail filters, while at the same time mining my subconscious/clickstream for consumption patterns (Viagra, Xanax, Poker, Software, Guns, etc.), it now seems likely that a disgruntled member of the Societé des Flarfeurs, banned during the first round of purges in the early months of our new dispensation, is now living in Dubai in a floating, 1:10,000 scale model of 1960s San Francisco where she is feeding the entire Sun & Moon backlist to a network of 75,000 Commodore 64s named either Paris, Texas or Parataxis. Or Bill Luoma. She estimates we'll meet maximum bandwith in five to seven days.
Fair subspecializes homely cashbook / Daisi cares happy plagiarism
Staley dictates sore grant / Davina demises moaning lamb
Katee plasters young experimenter / Fair strives stormy promptness
Gutenberg chains grotesque garrote /Walden morsels thoughtless opus
She's working on early Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse. The Faerie Queen is next.
Graffiti of the Month: U.S. Out of Elevator
Last month: what you be is what you are [Wittgenstein: What makes my image of him into an image of him? Not its looking like him!]
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Some of my poems are here, thanks to Danielle DeProfundis and her co-editor Jeff. Mostly strict radio silence here, as I stage a Frank O’Hara T. Kant W. Hegel Adorno deathmatch in the contested borderlands between my French dictionary and Troilus and Cressida.
Noah says: “But I don’t have enough energy to go to sleep.”
It’s really hard to find even five minutes for a thing like a blog, and I never said how much fun I had reading for Jordan’s Million Poems Show, and how grateful I am to the magnanimous and always underslept Gina for keeping it real and bringing me to read with the sly, riddling Karen Anderson and the anti-aphorisms of my best friend ever Karl Parker (whose chapbook, Harmstorm, you must buy over at Gina Myer’s Lame House Press) and the exultant scatologies of Gabe Gudding and the archaelogical excavations of Franklin Bruno (whose feverbird songwriting also never ceases to amaze, and who’s touring, I think, right now with The Mountain Goats, yes right now!, in the Southeast, you should see him).
Also amazing is the nomination for a National Book Award of the boomingly deserving book Angle of Yaw by Ben Lerner, who has become a friend and co-conspirator since I moved here to the Bay Area. There is a kind of shivering, darkly luminous clarity to the poems in Ben’s book, so unlike the resistant, densely textured surfaces where I am often happily reading. Because clear, because unafraid of the old-fashioned kind of denotative meaning, and because preferring the subtlest, usually syntactical or contiguity-based devices, the poems can work and unwork themselves at the level of the paragraph or stanza, in the interstices between lines and phrases and sentences, in ways that other poems can’t or don't or won't That is, the trouble in/with language is all the more troubling when it finally comes on stage, because are you still here? The form of a horror movie perhaps? And Ben, too, is oh so gloriously unafraid of the public voice, able to stand at the rhetorical podium without becoming homilizing, didactic or showy. He knows about fools, about what they get to say to the congregation. Bob Perelman might be closest to what he’s doing—outside of the obvious influences of The Arcades Project and Minima Moralia. W.H. Auden, too, surprisingly, but thankfully all of your kind work, dear boys and girls, to disabuse the poet of self-seriousness keeps Ben from becoming that statue of regret and stiff-lipped abysmal inwardness into which Auden sometimes ossifies. Phew!
A very remote correspondent sends me this message:
So, you’ve heard about the Poetry Bus, right? Well, now there is the Poetry Sub! Are you tired of all this talk about poetic community and the embarrassing hagiographic or I’m-a-little-commodity love-me-now endgame chatter of the comments box? Are you feeling nostalgiac for the good old days of anomie and alcoholism in crumbling apartments, marginalization and coterie infighting? Then the Poetry Sub is for you! We’ll cruise the international waters of the poetic hors-d’oeuvre, living on spirulina and protein bars and sleeping three-to-a-bunk. All you have to do is promise to not write for one year. Just one year of non-duty: No books, no chapbooks, no poems, no sticky notes on the refrigerator, no marginalia. No mouth, no ears. Everything is true.
Monday, October 23, 2006
Overheard at Caffe Strada
"Oh, I just loved it. You have to see it! I mean, Marie Antoinette, she was a really COMPLICATED person. People can be so BLACK and WHITE, y'know! They don't really stop to imagine what it's like from the other side. She was so young! And so beautiful. You have to see it. The costumes are amazing. And the OPULENCE. And she has the most beautiful children. These BLONDE, BLUE-EYED children."
Saturday, October 21, 2006
My friend and mentor Deborah Tall passed away Thursday night. She was far too young. I hope to write something about her writing and her life here at a later date, but I have mostly silence to say right now.
This is from her memoir/lyric essay _A Family of Strangers_, just out from Graywolf:
We race after spray trucks during mosquito season, see who can be ghosted in the white mist of DDT.
We follow around my father as he spritzes the scrawny rose bushes to protect them from the beautifully iridescent Japanese beetles.
A nearby chemical plant makes us gag when the wind blows our direction.
From every angle, we are hemmed in by identical pale gray rooftops.
Walt Whitman is the name of a seven-lane bridge across the Delaware.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
This pleat of somber lace which retains the infinite woven by a thousand, each according to the thread or the prolongation, its secret unknown, assembles distant interlacings where there sleeps some luxury to take account of--a ghoul, a knot, some foliage--and to present.
. . .
I do not know if the Host circumscribes perspicaciously his domain: it will please me to mark it out, and also certain conditions. The right to accomplish nothing exceptional, or lacking in vulgar bustle: anyone must pay for it by being omitted and, you might say, by death as a person. His exploits are committed while dreaming, so as to bother no one; but still their program is displayed for those who care nothing about it.
Mallarme, _As for the Book_, trans. Mary Ann Caws
And, then, finding a copy of "Crise du Vers" in front of me, from which I had to make English idiom in less than hour. . . No dice.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
I expect to soon hear reports about the new Alice Notley offering,--Alma, or the Dead Women, from Granary. The poems sounded great when she read here last Spring. Sadly, it will probably be a month before I can get to it.
Other books on the horizon that I'm happy about:
1)Eshelman's The Complete Poems (Bilingual!), Cesar Vallejo, from UC Press. Another $50 book, like the Berrigan, but it's $50 of the poet who--as well as anyone else--dispenses with notion that linguistic experimentation and personality are somehow at odds. Tactical subjectivity--little Spains and Parises and Perus everywhere. And it will help me recover some of my Spanish. When I reach for it now, all I find is French.
2) Against the Day, Thomas Pynchon. They were calling this Untitled Thomas Pynchon for awhile, and the page count keeps gets a little higher each time I look at the Amazon page. Pynchon's auto-blurb strikes me as a bit hokey, ditto the title, but as far as I'm concerned he's where the American imagination goes when it gets tired of fucking around. There's probably no living writer to whom I owe more.
Here's the totally amazing reading schedule for the Holloway series at UC Berkeley:
AUTUMN 2006 SEASON IN POETRY
Thursday Sept. 27th @ 7:30pm - Reception to Follow
HOLLOWAY POET - LISA ROBERTSON
Thursday Oct. 12th @ 6:30pm
Wednesday Oct. 25th @ 6:30pm
Thursday Nov. 16th @ 6:30pm
Wednesday Nov. 29th @ 6:30pm
I read with Karen Anderson, Anne Boyer, Jordan Davis & Co. and Karl Parker at Knox College (Galesburg, IL) on Oct. 13th and 14th. Info here
I'm told that Galesburg is basically close to nowhere that is not itself nowhere near itself, or something like that, but you should come out if you can. It promises to be a good time.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
Josh Corey asked for more about the concept-book, and so more he will get.
We are in a historical moment, it seems to me, where the collection or miscellany of poems/writings has had its star dimmed by the long poem, the serial poem and proceduralist or mixed-genre book. I have no way of knowing how much this has to do with changing tastes among, on the one hand, writers, or on the other, publishers, but considering that these are often the same people [sometimes even the very same person, as in self-publication], I suspect it a little of both.
There are a number of things one can note about this trend. First, that it evidences the strongly digested (and to some, no doubt, strongly misread) influence of language-poetry and associated, although sometimes NOT similar, 70s-80s-90s writers on younger poets (as well as the continuing prolificness of these writers themselves)--and this holds true, even if poet X., who wrote a series or concept book, has never cracked open a single volume by any of the people who fought and died in the brutal poetry wars. I won't name names. With this comes the partial success of an effort to remember a certain strain of Modernism to which often, at least in English, the weighty name of Pound attaches. On the other hand, as much as he wrote long poems, Wallace Stevens, I think, produced collections; however much we can say about the unitariness of _Harmonium_, there's an attention to the individual poem as quasi-autonomous space, as monad--an attention to, yes I will use the word, the lyric--that must, I think, be seen as the other of the trend toward the book. Pound, on the other hand, wrote a cross-referenced encyclopedia. Of course, this is a multi-axis graph upon which every work will occupy a certain area. Many (probably the best) will often make deciding difficult.
I would suggest that part of the current will toward the book, and the will to work against the autonomy of the poem or lyric, has to do with the frailty, the non-autonomy, of the individual poem post-blog, post-google, post massive-gift-economy of 500 journals. Making a book means, for some writers but no doubt not all, something that resists our uncanny ability as consumers and well-meaning dilettantes to reduce things to soundbites, blurbs, banal paraphrases, anthology pieces, blog posts. On a more neutral note, a book resists the current state of poetry in which (and I do think this is a good thing) everybody with half a brain is their own journal. For my part, reading journals these days is a constant reminder that writing a wonderful poem turns out to be, in the end, not all that hard. Or perhaps that great is now a somewhat empty term, just a quality set beside other qualities, a meta-quality that has settled back into the heap. We have an entire century and then some of models, and resistance to those models, for modern poetry. Producing an object that lies between two flaps, though, whether a collection or a "book," seems somehow, in my experience, more difficult.
So, the poet post-google, post-language confronts a crisis of value with several notable features: 1)"The wealth of libraries in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an 'immense collection of anthologies'" 2)The good news: there are lots of great poems! 2) The bad news: it's hard to remember who wrote them, because everyone has the same name, even if they have different names. You could even say that the death of the author is the birth of the anthology, and lo, a kind of indirect hagiography--of schools, etc.--condescends around the corpse 3) Ergo, quick, write a book! One which demands a large share of the reader's available attention/concentration.
Let me say that I like--nay, love--many of these books; I've written one of them, and I would not in any way suggest that they be any different. Rather, I'm only hoping to begin a conversation about the perhaps unconscious social impulses that lie behind this trend, and the things that might be endangered in such a state. Without a doubt, this kind of durability is to be valued. But the drawback to the popularity of the book over the collection is that that book's concept, idea, base may be used as an apology for lots of, let's admit it, tedium without recourse to any of the arguments for the value of tedium--(see spinach, cooked; Popeye and negativity)
I find it interesting that the work of poets to give poetry an "expanded field," as Barrett Watten points out, borrowing Rosalind Krauss's formulation, to push poetry into discourse, into the site, into--yikes!--life even, ends up contributing to, twenty years later, a supremacy of the book, as if despite its will and ability to push out beyond the flaps, nevertheless the elasticity of that totality has outflanked poetry and bound it to the page. Now that we know claims about the death of the book (and the beginning of writing) are bound to be overblown, might we claim that the decomposition of the book has lead, paradoxically or just plain dialectically, to a strengthening of the book?* Doubtless, there are many writers of the generation now reignant who do not or do not often write collections or miscellanies but who would probably not consider the production of books the chief feature of their writing, books being in some way only a facet of a larger poetics or project. I think of something like Bernadette Mayer's _Midwinter Day_, where the books is a sort of residue, a glorious residue, of the original action. Is there a danger now of confusing the one with the other? Of thinking that having a poetics, having something to make in the way of poetry, means having a book, even if often the two go together? **
I won't pretend that I'm yet able to think a full thougth, or even half of a thought, here. Only two things: let's not confuse the book with poetry, and let's not forget about the possibilities that the individual, and even short, poem (or piece) offers--however much the weakminded have asked us to believe that such a notion is inherently bourgeois. For, sometimes, it seems to me the work isthe poem, and sometimes not--and the poem as such is often the most visible aspect of some of my favorite writers' work. And then there are books that are too disparate to conform to the narrow options discussed above--things like Kevin Davies _Comp._ or John Ashbery's _Rivers and Mountains_.
*You might say that the same thing happens in art after minimalism, where the turn toward the conceptual, the theoretical, the textual, and to the failed attempt to outsmart the commodity, gives way to an even more powerful fusion of commercialism and art. While the most fascinating and inventive of these attempts continue pushing out into the expanded field, their epigones go to art school and decide that art is *just* paraphernalia, rather than paraphernalia to a vanished concept. The psuedo-conceptual. From here, this looks like it was fun for awhile and then not. Although it was good to be reminded that, yes, ideas are for sale, this doesn't mean you need a half-a-million dollars to execute a non-idea.
**Perhaps the best piece of evidence I can give of this is Johanna Drucker's rewriting, in _A Century of Artist's Books_, of the initial chapter from Derrida's _Of Grammatology_ ("The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing") as "The End of Writing and the Beginning of the Book." Am I missing something--the original French perhaps--or is this the kind of error that's so huge as to fly by everyone--analysts, editors, Jonathan Culler, French consulates, etc.? This is the guy who talks about "the death of the civilization of the book"?
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Now that I've started writing, at least for the moment, books rather than collocations of poems (the now-dominant mode of writing about which I'm deeply ambivalent and glad to see refused), it has twice happened that, past the mid-point of the project, I encounter a writer so close to the expression I've imagined for myself that she will rather than would become, or have already become, we have no tense for this in english, the point-of-departure for my own writing, recasting everything I've done and setting it in motion around a far-away center. And isn't this the story with all origins, after the fact, like fate? With _Stars-Down_, my LA book, that writer was Lisa Robertson. With the genetics poem I'm now writing, it's Michel Houellebecq, whose signposts marked "this way Fascism," "this way a totally biological reification, an absolute foreclosure" indicate the spot at which I have, for the moment, planted my feet. It's this belonging to a community and to a historical moment that makes the polite and well-meaning letters from editors who like, but will not be publishing, my manuscript irrelevant, or almost.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
These Alternumerics--part constellation, part font--are amazing. Much more enjoyable than the do-it-yourself Humument on the Verse website. Thanks to the estimable and eloquent Berkeleyan Chris Chen--whose experiments with these fonts in 1913:1, now available as a PDF here, are really brilliant-- for pointing this out. It's too rare that post-conceptual art actually delivers on the democratizing promises it made us in the late 60s, without losing sight of fun. Chris Chan's website is a very fine delivering. I hope I soon get a chance to see one of his installations.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
So, what's the inexplicably multiplying image of the 2000s? What do we have that is comparable to the angels of the late 1980s/early 1990s and the dread, portent-freighted "stones" of the 70s, and what if anything do these kind of viral tropes do/mean? I'm voting fornight-vision goggles or night-vision green. . . What do you think? Jordan?
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Henry's pelt was put on sundry walls
where it did much resemble Henry and
them persons was delighted.
Especially his long & glowing tail
by all them was admired, and visitors.
They whistled: This is it!
Golden, whilst your frozen daiquiris
whir at midnight, gleams on you his fur
& silky & black.
Mission accomplished, pal!
My molten yellow & moonless bag,
drained, hangs at rest.
Collect in the cold depths barracuda. Ay,
in Sealdah Station some possessionless
children survive to die.
The Chinese communes hum. Two daiquiris
withdrew into a corner of the gorgeous room
and one told the other a lie.
A few quotes for those who do, and those who do not, think that Marx's terminology is too antiquated for the terrors of today. Don't miss your chance to watch primitive accumulation in action!
"About 260 workers in Dalian process about 30 bodies a year. The workers, who generally earn $200 to $400 a month, first dissect the bodies and remove skin and fat, then put the bodies into machines that replace human fluids with soft chemical polymers."
"He who was previously the money-owner now strides out in front as a capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his worker. The one smirks self-importantly and is intent on business; the other is timid and holds back, like someone who has brought his own hide to market and now has nothing else to expect but--a tanning" (280, Capital).
"Living labour must seize on these things, awaken them from the dead, change them from merely possible into real and effective use-values. Bathed in the fire of labour, appropriated as part of is organism, and infused with vital energy for the performance of the functions appropriate to their concept and to their vocation in the process, they are indeed consumed, but to some purpose, as elements in the formation of new use-values, new products, which are capable of entering individual consumption as means of subsistence or into a new labour process as means of production" (289-90, Capital)
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Saturday, July 22, 2006
". . .plagiarism, a plain piece of plumbling."--Duchamp
"A great pleasure arose from seeing all those incoherent structures. This site gave evidence of a succession of man-made systems mired in abandoned hopes."--Robert Smithson
And then Noah at the rose garden, renaming them: "that one's called White Customer. And that one's called Light Conductor."
Thursday, July 20, 2006
When I mentioned, the day before last, to a fellow student, that I had read an article describing how the Israeli Defense Force [today's spin term: defense]uses Debord's Society of the Spectacle, D&G's chapter on "The War Machine, and the Situationist International's "Theory of the Derive" to better describe, exploit and reconceptualize the space of urban warfare in the modern age, she first said that "she didn't believe it" and then, when I explained further, "that she wasn't sure she was interested in it." I'm interested in this (if interest can come anywhere near the churning in my stomach), interested even if I do not or do not want to believe it. But I also understand her cool non-chalance, her assumption (which I will not, liking this person, chalk up to the disease of chilly, cynical all-knowingness which often infects graduate students and academics alike). It's history, right? The IDF uses '68-ism to register changes in which they have already participated, been the promulgators of, and already understood otherwise. But can we really think of this as an epiphonemon, a off-gassing of proto-super-capitalism, without real consequences? I think not. The excerpt in last month's Harper's of a recently published book, Fail Better!, on the insights of Samuel Beckett for contemporary business and marketing strategy (ambiguity, perseverance. . .), only confirms my sense that the power of Nabisco or IDF to capture and exploit the most intelligent kinds of negativity and criticality that "theory" has to offer must be examined, all the more if you believe that, eventually, Gertrude Stein becomes a billboard on I-95. [Note, here, the sale of Iggy Pop's fantastic song "Lust for Life" to Carnival Cruises (or was it Princess), a sale which sets Johnny Yen and his striptease and lotion in a floating mall where he has little chance of harming anyone.]
Of course, I'm not saying anything not predicted or considered by these writers themselves, especially Debord and the SI, who talk explicitly of a need to negate the negation, to follow criticality with an imaginative positivity--the dérive is a way of describing and breaking up urban space that would, ideally, then be followed by a restructuring of the city so as to better serve desire, needs, and better stymie enervation and immiseration. I'm rereading D&G, now, and everywhere finding their admonitions against exactly this kind of despotic application or manifestation of the BwO: "Even if we consider given social formations, or a given stratic apparatus within a formation we must say that every one of them has a BwO ready to gnaw, proliferate, cover and invade the entire social field, entering into realtions of violence and rivalry as well as alliance and complicity. A BwO of money (inflation), but also a BwO of the the State, army, factory, Party, etc. If the strata are an affair of coagulation and sedimentation, all a stratum needs is a high sedimentation rate for it to lose its configuration and articulations and to form its own specific kind of tumor, within itself or in a given formation or apparatus. The stata form their own BwO's, totalitarian and fascist BwO's, terrifying caricatures of the plane of consistency" (1000 Pl., 163). Or again, worryingly: "That is why the material problem confronting schizoanalysis is knowing whether we have it within our means to make the selection, to distinguish the BwO from its doubles: empty, vitreous bodies, cancerous bodies, totalitarian and fascist. The test of desire: not denouncing false desires, but distinguishing within desire between that which pertains to stratic proliferation, or else too-violent destratification, and that which pertains to the construction of the plane of consitency (keep an eye out for all that is fascist, even inside us, also for the suicidal and demented)" (165). From this and other passages, departs the kidnapping of D&G by the IDF, as well as the many formidable critiques that writers have directed his way over the last twenty-five years. Such a passage can help describe, too, what strike me--here on the blog-plane, and elsewhere--as misreadings of D or D&G (perhaps undenounceable), alternately too hot or too cool.
What, then, for those who would resist? What, then, when the IDF and U.S. military and Hallibruton as well as Al-Qaeda, can be described and empowered by such terminology? Is this view too blurry? Is there a way to dechunk and reassemble at the same time? to make by breaking? It seems that I can get either: 1) a slippery tone, a worrisome ambiguity 2)or a careful, patient and intelligent analysis that defers any answering.
Property damage, propaganda.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Saw Lytle Shaw's O'Hara book, The Poetics of Coterie, in Moe's yesterday. Perhaps this will stave off some of Jordan's hunger for O'Hara's side of the story until the biopic (one imagines, sadly, cellular tissue on a slide) arrives. But Kevin Spacey is starting to look too old, don't you think? Jude Law has the look but probably couldn't pull it off. Come to think of it, Jordan, you're not a bad match yourself. How's your acting?
Sunday, July 09, 2006
Arrived, yesterday, a packet of materials from Kasey and Anne's new nano-press Abraham Lincoln--"Monsters" a chapbook by Kasey, the "Dark Deer," a sheaflet poem with a blue transparent cover from Anne, and broadsides by Joseph Massey, Anne and Kasey. And so now, beholden as I am to the dark imagination of Anne and Kasey it appears that I am going to have to talk, again, about poets associated with Flarf, but I'll try to steer away from discussing the movement in its entirety.
Monsters succeeds, for me, in sidestepping many of the critiques levelled at Kasey and his cohort by allowing the jumbled speakers (never given the mic for very long) to reflect upon the agency that puppets them along. No doubt, the work of writing these poems can be compared to Dr.Frankenstein's long nights spent "collecting and arranging [his] materials." It's always seemed important to me that Shelley directly compares Dr.'s "filthy creation" to the discovery of the Americas. But like Dr.'s monster, these poems do a fair amount of Oedipal hungering (with results usually no less tragic) after self-knowledge. In the first line of the chapbook's first poem, "The Kids / are all giving each other the virus " or later in "Grey Areas"--"the bad moment I had was when I realized / I am part of a list that is inhaling the wrong things / people saw my text and got the wrong impression." Or yet again: in his poem "In the Future," where "we all have gonorrhea for half an hour." This then is the moment of meta-flarf, flarf able to conceive of itself as a social construction, and by, perhaps, de-reifying the forces that surround, allows us to imagine something else. [OK, breaking my promise here, sorry] Perhaps this is characteristic of a good portion of that written under the sign of flarf--it's certainly the case with the book-frame of Rodney Koeneke Mus'ee Mechanique, and its postscript, which in considering the museumified entertainments mechanical and electrical of a mechanical and electric past, allows itself to think the discontinous machines in which we now find ourselves, and the tug-of-war between entropy and the continuous counter-entropy of the new, the neo- in say "Neo Adapts Badly." And, on the subject of monsters, isn't a pizza kitty a textbook definiton of the chimerical? My noting of self-reflexion in these poets could probably apply also to Mike Magee's Mainstream.
I'm interested in the way that, in Kasey's poems, the elimination of the noise (residue, perhaps, of internet searches) that had been characteristic of, say, some of the poems in Deer Head Nation, and the here finer-threaded, less perceptible (less "seamy"), inter-phrase stitchwork, actually allows the discontinuities in the speaker's voice to be more easily noticed. The more the speaker of these poems insists on being a unity, rather than a concatenation of incompatible language games (and no, Peli, I'm not using this term lightly, cf. Lyotard's _The Differend_) the more s/he begins to unravel.
I guess Anne is to be considered a flarf-writer now--whatever this appellation is worth--and the poems included here seem to muse upon what this means, as much as they are a consideration of Kasey's work--The Dark Deer a critique/reading of "Deer Head Nation," and her knockout poem "I Love Literature" is an ars (or perhaps, arse, to make a bad but (in)appropriately scatological joke) poetica if ever there was one. A two line poem in Monsters provides (to assume a perhaps fallacious temporality) the pitch: "an army of deer led by computer-generated dog / man-beasts / is more to be feared than an army of lions" ("Darkling Plain").
I take it that one of the critiques of Kasey was that "deer" is/are (a) metonym(s) for middle-america, poor whites, red states, what have you, and that Kasey used this tag to appropriate language that could then make fun of haters from S. Dakota. I dunno'*. Deer are fucking everywhere!--in Beverly Hills, Scarsdale, in gated communities, etc. In fact, in many (sub)urban areas it's usually the wealthy who have the worst deer problems, living on the edge of the natural, at the top of hills. One of the many, many things I've learned from reading Faulkner is how rare, at the turn of the century, deer were. In "The Bear," there are outdooorsmen who've spent their entire life without seeing anything but the mere traces of totemically charged deer. I don't know if this was, then, a result of overhunting or what, and if, at the time Wyatt wrote "Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind" deer were any more common (but he didn't write--I know too many hind). But how different from today! Deer, in these poems, are metonyms of overproduction, overaccumulation, overdevelopment of wilderness, and the gradual squeezing and starving of deer populations into smaller and smaller parcels of land where they work their multiplicatory magic. And what a perfect symbol, no?--an animal with rich poetic lineage and signification clusters now become as common as, and for some as beloved as, the cockroach. Deer, here, figure excess and lack, a nature imbalanced and both scarce and in excess of itself. So thick that they begin to colonize the internet!
In Anne's poems--here and elsewhere-- deer specifically and animality in general are figures of art in an age of electronic reproduction. They are symbol and sign of informational excess; where deer appear, so too does reproduction and sex. Last year, some will remember Anne talking about Giorgio Agamben's The Open, and I think this short work (an essay really) is key to understanding what she's up to. At the very end of that book, in typical Agambenian cryptic cliffhanger fashion, he suggests with prophetic immodesty that the future holds two paths for humanity--a return to animality via the technological as means of absolute control or a return to animality via the technological as means of absolute freedom. The provocative claim of this book is that, rather than see technology as anti-animal and anti-biological, we should instead look at the technological as drawing us ever deeper into a series of circuits and attractions that might, at last, fundamentally destroy the subject/object split, Heidegger's standing-over-against- the-world (one can read The Open as essentially a critique of Heidegger's "What are Poets For" and the notion of the open therein). Like animals, a pure technoworld means living in a continuous loop of stimmung (attraction-affect) in which there is no longer an I and a thou, only a snaking-through the labyrinth. I don't like this vision so much, and neither does Agamben. The other option--well, he ain't so clear. I think we're supposed to stay tuned for the end of the series, since everything he's writing is essentially an expansion upon or footnote to Homo Sacer.
A very intelligent friend of mine, who shares the name (except for an initial) of a well-known poet I've never read remarked, once, in conversation that one of the things he loves about Anne's blog is her continuous hurling of images of the natural and the animal into a space (the internet, the blog) that is seemingly, constitutively, anti-biological, anti-visceral, that means community in the dry abstract and post-democratic sense. In this sense, Anne flouts these kinds of distinctions, and moves closer to Agambens' notions, without perhaps some of the ontological utopian convictions of Agamben. I'm going to quote "I Love Literature" in full, so that you can get a sense of how clear all that I've been mentioning is within it:
I was attacking Culture.
I have seen her and she is so big and beautiful.
Pulling a thirty-six-inch-strip out of Language
and eating it,
she has given me an opportunity
to pattern gothic specialties, small farmers, and starfish
out of the reddish-brown essence that implies a native land
Outlines of legacy are a minimal-production glass creature.
I worry it's too much like voice and structure.
What's better is when we can eat our fermenteed hurt
and someone gives a seminar on Kathy Acker's
regional, agricultural, and mining sectors.
I am not free to be mad.
When I smell Archer Daniels Midland
it is as if an oligarchy has dived into wreck
Yes, I love Literature
but what I love about it is
the reproductive organs of Capital.
Here, Anne perhaps moves beyond the "document of culture/document of barbarism dyad," or at least does something different than recover or expose the barbarities latent in culture. She knows that our literary activity is subsidized in one way or another by surplus-value and exploitation, subsidized like Archer Daniels Midland (a personified name for a faceless mega-agro-corporation) is by billions of dollars of cash inflows that keep alive the lie of free market economy. But she also knows that the problem for capital is, aside from the age-old problem of how (like Kasey's virus) best to extract maximum-value without killing its host, what to do with its massive cash holdings now that information and production (in some but not all places) is being informationalized and no longer requires large outlays of capital. I'm not sure I fully understand her answer, but I think it's something like this: honor the relationship between these gifts and exploitation without pretending to know the exact way the connection works, and turn the excess into affirmative affect that, who knows, might be a difference that makes a difference.
[Note on debts: I am here, basically, paraphrasing the basically unparaphrasable final turn of an essay by Chris Nealon on the poetic defense which concludes with a reading of Jennifer Moxley's "On this Side Nothing," a poem that also ends, after a tortuous process of reasoning, with a similarly improbably and open-ended affirmation.]
* Correction: I mispoke here originally. I realize that a good deal of the language in the deer head part of the book does appear to have this provenance. But a good deal of it doesn't.
Saturday, July 08, 2006
Two summers ago, this when we still lived in Ithaca, Anna and Noah (6. mos. old at the time) and I were driving north from Berkeley to a house that her parents had rented in Mendocino when we passed the establishment a photo of which now adorns the banner above, and wherefrom, by way of a Tom Waits song, this blog takes its name. I recently had the chance to retrace our route, and although my memory had placed "Red's Recovery Room" about forty miles away, in a much nicer spot on the erstwhile "Bohemian Highway" between Sebastopol and Bodega Bay, probably because Tom Waits, I was told at the time, lives around there somewhere The bar is actually in Cotati, just off the 101, right next to a seemingly uninhabited surfeit of tract-housing. I didn't get a chance to go in--but I imagine looking, on the inside, like the setting of Iggy Pop and Tom Wait's wonderfully maundering and inconclusive conversation in Jim Jarmusch's "Coffee and Cigarettes."
I haven't listened to this particular song, or in general any Tom Waits, in the intervening time but not for lack of admiration for what he does as songwriter and noisemaker. I'm taking a break--like I'm taking a break from the Pixies, from Charles Mingus, from Dylan, from Nirvana, etc., and all kinds of music I've worn through from overlistening. In general, I feel pretty dumb about music but I like this song, and I feel drawn to and repulsed by its lyrics, their recovery and preservation of a historical moment, a U.S., that the sign above refuses to any longer portend--"sawin on a jaw bone violin there /Kathleen was sittin down /In little reds recovery room /In her criminal underwear bra" (the credits here belong to Waits and the aformentioned Kathleen, his wife I think). Sometimes, it seems that majority of us poetry-bloggers (late babyboomers or gen-x'rs) are trying to sort through the leavings and residues, failures and wrong turns of the revolutionary moments of the late 1960s and early 1970s--the artistic products of which are now the dominant voice in poetry and art, and the political legacy of which (liberalism's auto-cannibalization--which is not, Jordan, to say democracy sucks but rather what democracy, whose, which one? Lots of people speak for me. They get paid to do so even) needs to be better understood if we are to understand where we are since 2001--the neoprimitivists and constructivists and post-situationists and neo-Mallarmeans and dialecticians and techno-artists and the macaronics, all of us blindly feeling our way along toward the promise of the promise of promise betrayed. A song like this, retrospective as it is, makes some of that work easier.
But if this is a space for recovery, it's largely the recovering of things that were never mine to begin with, that I either did not know I had, didn't have any idea what to do with or just plainly did not have at all. Starting a blog, and starting to read blogs, and argue and befriend and confabulate with poets, has completely changed my sense of what it means to write and to read--and it's pointed me in the direction of more points of interest than I could ever countenance with an army of self-clones. Where before I saw scarcity and a moribund artform I practiced dutifully and for the benefit of seven or eight people, I know see abundance. Maybe that's community--but it's a community that overspills and fails to encompass any term like "the poetry blogging community" or "the Bay Area poetry scene." Less like the avant-garde neighborhood watch and more like a garden where you know the vegetables much better than the hands that tend them.
But there's something to be said for solitude, for the eremite, too. I think that's the (un)happy medium that blogs offer--a social hermitude.
(I know this has a strange valedictory ring to it, but don't worry--or do--I'm not going anywhere).
Friday, July 07, 2006
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Right away (that's right, NOW) go and read Lisa Robertson over at the Poetry Foundation site:
The word community is a common currency right now in poetry blogs and certain bars. Community’s presence or absence, failure, responsibility, supportiveness, etc—everyone is hovering around this word. It could be that I just feel its ubiquity since I moved to rural France from Vancouver, ostensibly away from “my community.” When I think about it from here I feel ambivalent. I don’t miss community at all. I do miss my friends. How much of this notion of community is an abstraction of the real texture of friendship, with all its complicated drives and expressions—erotic, conversational, culinary, all the bodily cultures concentrated in a twisty relation between finite, failing persons. When I try to think of what a friend is, I imagine these activities we pleasurably share with someone we love—grooming, reading, sleeping, sex perhaps but not necessarily, intellectual argument, the exchange of books, garments and kitchen implements, all these exchanges and interweavings that slowly transform to become an idea and then a culture. Or a culture first, a culture of friends, and then an idea. Or both simultaneously. Writing is an extension and expression of friendship. Maybe friendship is more dangerous to think about and talk about because of its corporal erotics, mostly not institutionalized, not abstracted into an overarching concept and structure of collective protocols. For me, the drive to talk, to be in a room with someone I want to laugh or dance or fight with, to feed, all of those things—this has more to do with how writing happens for me, and also how I receive others’ writing, than community does. I think my friends have become models and incentives for my relationships with books and writing. Certainly I primarily write to my friends and for them, seeking to please and delight them above all, and sometimes mysteriously and painfully falling out. But I don’t want to call this community. I want to preserve the dark body of friendship.
I'm so happy she's coming to Berkeley for the fall semester.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
I wonder if this might be a proleptic parable about the film version of A Scanner Darkly and Dick's work itself. As in: all that's left now is the body (of work); no presiding intelligence there, not even a robotic one.
But, of course, for that metonym "Hollywood," it's gravy either way:
In Hollywood, though, executives have found a way to turn the loss to their advantage. Noting the oddity of the story, Ms. Kim said of the android: "He was perfect for the film. Now he's disappeared — and that's perfect for the film too."
Sunday, June 11, 2006
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Back from LA and lots of books in the mail to make bills and other unpleasantries easy to swallow:
from Ugly Duckling Press: After You, Dearest Language by Marison Limon Martinez; a book of Mandelstam translations; and also Gabriel Pomerand's Saint Ghetto of the Loans, a long prose poem here twice translated (by Michael Kasper and Bhamati Viswathan into English) and by Pomerand, on the facing page, into strings (rebuses) of pictographs and hieroglyphs. Pomerand's version of Lettrist practice--breaking down words and sentences to the materiality of the letter in order to discover a magical, immediate and directly effective language (he conceives of his poem as a spellbook, a magical primer) evinces hopefulness about the power of poetry that is rare or non-existent today. It's hard to imagine any writer today searching for "intrinsic figuration" or believing that onomotapoeia is anything but a illusion that meaning creates. And yet, the search for linguistic materiality by way of fragmentation and negativity is something recognizable in other poetries from later moments in the century; it's hard not to think of Ron's notion of the new sentence here, and the peculiarly paradoxical language of uncovering and covering, language "tightly wrapped in searing penetration," is something little writing gets away from. Any revelation's a covering, too.
Also--Josh Corey's chapbook Compostition Marble and Mike Magee's Mainstream (which they were both kind enough to send). I'm looking forward to reading all of these books. I start intensive French on Monday (25 hrs/week) and have no idea how much time this will leave me with for extracurricular reading.
I have wanted to respond to Standard's remarks, here, about the technologization of poetry as a set of new "enclosures" (at least that's the implication of the final paragraph) and his opposing to this a "voluntary history" that breaks free from the habits of memory and official histories. It's a provocative and unsettling claim, and I see it as in part a response to the question I asked two or three posts back about the nature of the public and private in the blogosphere. It is all the more timely a remark given the current bill in the legislature which would allow for a further privatization and corporatization of the internet. (Note: what follows is not about Flarf, but about technology and artistic practice more generally).
The book that comes to mind here, and that I think Standard is referencing, aside from _Capital_,--is the Retort group's account, in Afflicted Powers, of the 21st century as a new age of primitive accumulation and dispossession, a new age of enclosures--by way of not only privativation, market liberalization, free trade and mass media but also blatant colonialization and occupation. The other works that comes to mind are Hardt and Negri's books Empire and Multitude. Hardt and Negri would agree, to a large degree, with Afflicted Powers notion of primitive accumulation and extend it to the realm of the informational (the internet, etc.) and the biopolitical (genetic engineering, agricultural science). Hardt and Negri are optimistic where Retort is pessimistic, and so as much as they see a new age of displacement and dispossession they also see a simultaneous back-creation of a "common," here analogically linked to the common lands which the enclosures in England destroyed. This common, in their account, can be found on the internet, in shared knowledge, and in the biological. For Hardt and Negri, these areas are in excess of capital's ability to control and adminster them and allow for subversive reappropriative actions by individuals. As much as the internet is most commonly used to buy and sell things, it is also used to organize political actions and distribute information in a manner that is in excess of the state's, and Capital's, regulatory abilities.
The counterargument here (perhaps Standard's and perhaps not) is that the derealization and virtualization of the world allows for a internet world of pseudo-freedoms and pseudo-life all the while that exploitation and domination in 3-D-ville (land and air and sea) proceeds apace; the worry, I suppose, is that action in the media, in blogs etc., will substitute for action in the world. So this would be a pseudo-common, a common that is in fact an enclosure, and which permits dispossession in other spheres. This is the basic plot structure of so many science fiction books and movies, right? We're watching a thrilling and endlessly entertaining movie while our organs are being removed.
But it's wrong, I think, to over-identify a particular technology with the exploitation for which it allows. And this is where I disagree with Standard, at least as I'm reading him, and as much as I agree that historical consciousness of this type is crucial--in fact, I think it sounds little different than Benjamin's exhortation to seize an image of the past that flashes up in a moment of danger, to use the past for the purposes of present political consciousness. But the society of the spectacle and its enclosure(s) are a set of social relations, not just a technology; it is a social image fostered by image-machines, and to the extent that we take as our object of critique the technology itself we miss the point, and we may run the risk of getting rid of the technology and maintaining the social relations. It's not technology that's the problem, as I see it, but the use or misuse of that technology. To a certain degree, no doubt, the social relations of late capitalism have become part of the very form of the internet, a kind of sedimented content that is structural and hence inescapable. But I suspect that this is only part of the story of digital technology, and that a good portion of the deleterious effects of it have to do with the uses to which it is put. Uses that are, also, voluntary.
Mediation of life occurs through various devices, low-tech, hi-tech, no-tech. To the extent that, on the one hand, we think that avoiding the hi-tech or the popular makes a substantial difference we've conflated cause and effect. To the extent that we think some kind of internet image-war is what it's all about--and this would be the danger of certain technologist positions-- we're set up for a series of pyrric victories. We have to look for the ways in which the internet points back to and feeds into social life in the world in which we still, thankfully, live. Both of these interpretations are part of what T.J. Clark has referred to, in trying to counter misreadings of Afflicted Powers, as Donald Rumsfeld's theory of spectacle. We can't forget the society part of Debord's title.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not interested in living here, in ones and zeros, while public space withers and gets more and more desertified. And yes, I'm aware that for the most part the online world is a machine for keeping us in a "depthless present" in which we avoid, in fact, the terrors of the present moment, ditto the past and future. But I think that search engines or whatnot, or other technologies can be used, if not for historical investigation, then for a lateral recovery of the full sprawl, the full excessive (abundant) massiveness of the present in all of its aspects. And one gets to make voluntary present-worlds here, too. One gets to see connections here, too. And I think that there is a slippage, in Standard's account, between information-economies and commodity-economies. Information is in abundance in the world today; the way that one makes information into a commodity is by limiting access, valuing certain types of information and devaluing others, and in all respects convincing other people that the "real information" is here, not there. But most of the time that same information can be had for free, so being-in-the-know is a scam. The commodity part of information is all in its organization, its form, and so, perhaps, there are ways of arranging and rearranging information that do not follow the logic of the commodity. [I'm going to continue to think about this. Any thoughts would be appreciated.]
Look, I'm more than aware that every time I buy a book online, or download an article, I'm contributing to the death of the street. But I also know that, for instance, the BBQ I went to yesterday at Rodney Koeneke's house, where I saw Alli Warren and Kasey Mohammed read their thrilling poems, and met Rodney's beautiful little boy Auden (only ten days younger than Noah!) was partly a social connection spurred on by the internet. The same thing happened a couple of weeks ago when, after an e-mail exchange, I ran into Standard at Normal Cole's, Melissa Benham's and Mary Burger's Artifact reading. A disagreement that might have turned more negative than necesary turned into a truly pleasant and edifying conversation, and I found Standard an immensely likeable fellow with whom I have numerous common interests. And no doubt more than a few points of difference.
So, I think that, as with any technology, there is little that is inherently open or closed in digital technology. It's a question of how, and to what purpose, something is used. Or so says my Wittgenstein. I think the same goes for the ostensibly trivial aspects of popular culture--yes, a song by X or Y may be basically ideological and obfuscating or toxic, but if contextualized correctly, if juxtaposed in intriguing ways, it's anything but.
Friday, June 02, 2006
By what factor should we multiply reports like those of the massacre of Hadifa, or torture in Abu Ghraib, in Guantanamo and Bagram Air Base and _____? What is the ratio of reported to unreported atrocities? How often is the military successful in suppressing information?
To think like this--to search for a horrible and unspecifiable multiplier--runs counter to the work of feeling, it seems, the work of disgust and compassion which wants to value every death like this as infinitely unaccountable and unbearable. Comparisons are odious (quoth Marianne Moore). These things can't be quantified. And yet, it seems that the predictable pattern of reportage and response--doubt followed by indignation and promises of "justice," the intensity of anger and disgust devoted to the singular atrocity only helps to reinforce the notion that these are isolated events. On the other hand, to see something like Hadifa as the visible portion of a field of violence where, everyday, soldiers and security forces out-of-mind with fear kill people armed and unarmed--babies and old men and all--pushes me beyond the limit of feeling and into the realm where I can mostly only cogitate. Maybe I'm dead in a few hard to find places, so that the big picture ( seems to push against the work of disgust and indignation that Hadifa deserves. It's wrong, wrong and necessary.
Focusing on the singular event is, to me, akin to the equally seductive tendency to lay the war in Iraq--in here, over there--on the doorstep of "the administration." It's easier if there's a human explanation, a series of choices made by people with beating hearts. I think often of a friend's description of Bush as "merely the most repulsive face of the machine." And even the phrase "machine" has a hidden anthropomorphic component (a maker, right, a hand?), a way of giving face to something that is faceless: broken machine that keeps on working.
I am irrational in grief. I am unable to give up magical thinking, to stop reading horoscopes, to give up looking for agency, the agency, the icy A. And here, too, the seductions of conspiratorial thinking arise--in the vertigo of the big, unclear picture: a plot, a little story with explosions and perfect hair and betrayals and midgets who live in the Los Angeles sewers, that makes everything make sense.
This is where Thomas Pynchon's novels can help: allowing the drift into the magical, refusing any ground for it.
I'm off to LA for a week.
Speaking of perfect hair, though, I highly recommend Clean. One of the best new movies I've seen since, oh, the other movie with Maggie Cheung. I've been thinking about intensity lately--how there's a kind that comes from speed and another kind from slowness (concentration) and then a third kind that comes from both speed and slowness--slowness in the foreground ( that seemingly inexhaustible repertoire of affects that Cheung's face contains balanced from a brief moment), but speed in the background, the camera jerking to keep Cheung in the frame while everything else is in flight, in disarray.
This happens in poetry, too, sometimes.
Monday, May 29, 2006
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Isn't the interest of the central but oh-so-familiar device in the addictive TV-show Lost--the suspense-building countdown that needs to be reset every 108 minutes via the manual entry of "codes"--that it gives a kind of recursive (and hence false) teleological structure to something that by virtue of it being an ongoing series has no defineable or clear-cut endpoint, whose hook is that it continually promises a resolution which it can postpone or complicate for episode upon episode, season upon season, until we get fed up or bored or move on? And yet I tune in each week, enter the tele-visual codes, submit myself to a hyper-manipulative waiting game without any real hope of an end; I keep watching even though I know the whole thing is probably a hoax and whatever resolution, whichever answers to my questions I eventually receive--some variation on "it was all a dream"--will fail, must fail, to satisfy. Those poor cast-members in the hatch, entering the codes every 108 minutes, doing something they aren't even sure has any meaning--that's me! And what do I learn is the result of failing to enter the codes? A toxic and dangerous accumulation of electromagnetic energy (otherwise known as suspense!) which rebooting the system (tune in next week!) disperses. 108 minutes: probably close to the average length of a feature film.
Monday, May 22, 2006
I was more inclined to step into this conversation (extended here and here and here) before things got heated and, it seems, not so nice. To start with, I think that Standard's oblique remarks about transgressivity (a metonym for you-know-what) are an inaccurate characterization of most of the flarf--not that much admittedly--that I've read. In _Deer Head Nation_ and _Petroleum Hat_ , for instance, I see nothing of the mere reversal of binaries--where transgression of power simply solidifies the power of power--of which Standard accuses the Flarfitrix/ -ator. But uh, doesn't this critique write off a huge portion of potent artistic, political and theoretical practice-Swift, Pope, Byron, Tzara, Mina Loy, the Baroness, Bataille, Schwitters, Artaud, Beckett, Amiri Baraka, self-immolating monks, Iggy Pop, Karen Finley? In the comments box of Standard's post, Pamela Lu distinguishes between "a kind of theater of harrassment to expose aggressive power dynamics that couldn't otherwise be called out without incurring immediate, heavy-handed backlash" and transgressive art that simply uses experimentalism as a pretence for its own violent, racist or sexist interests. I think this is a good test, and also that the two books above fall under the first category. I see flarf--in its finest instances--as not doing violence for violence's sake but exposing the already existent formal and contentual violences--on the internet, in the stock tropologies of poetry. I don't see it as brutality for the sake of a sadomasochistic readership, but of exposing the brutality that underwrites most every calm. Things can edge away from this first category into the second--this happened in earlier avant-gardes, too--in Bruce Andrews, for instance. I've seen "Flarf" that I found merely reactive and sensationalist. I stopped reading Jim Behrle months ago.
[On the term politically correct: I have on occasion used a personal computer type the term P.C. I regret all of these instances. It's a stupid term, an example of the enormuously successful, Karl Rove-ian marketing strategies which rendered the concepts behind terms like "illegal immigrant" and "pro-life"seemingly value neutral, and yes, I think continuing using it perpetuates the idea that a respect for difference and a desire for a world free of oppression is merely a polite fiction. But I do think that the current protocols of discourse force people to mask their hatred and stupidity in more palatable terms. I'd rather see it out in the open where it can be engaged with as the balderdash it is, instead of hidden behind a scrim of legalistic and scientistic and pseudo-rational nonsense. This is the line that Badiou (In Ethics) and Zizek (The Fragile Absolute) take, and I think that to some degree they're right.]
So, to me, the poems in the books above seem interested in engaging, orchestrating and deploying multiple levels of social voice--some offensive, some inoffensive, some whatever--not for the purpose of exploitation or a Vice-magazine laugh at the different or other, but to have the conversations that are not happening. It's pretty basic social constructivism, the way I read it, pseudo-documentary or documentary, allowing for carnival and polyphony and the social illuminations that derive from this. Except the tone is very different than what you might find in Reznikoff or something like Mark Nowak's Shut Up, Shut Down--ecstatic and frenetic instead of austere and morally serious. It is the mad, hysterical voice of Capital, ready to market any identity or subject position back to itself, with interest, ready to turn any negativity into an instrument blunt or pointed or spectral. I think it's an effective portrait of where we are, of what is and who isn't--and to the extent that it makes visible what goes by other names, or none at all, it's powerful critique.
This to me seems the first and most obvious point of difference between Flarf and the A Tonalist--Flarf's odes to A-Tonalism's elegies; pressure of speech to aphasia; plenum to void. [Here I should say that I also very much admire Brent's and Standard's and Laura's poetry; my claims here are meant to be descriptive not evaluative, in line with Brent's desire for "affirmation without silencing"]. In Brent's version, and in his poems, it seems that the A Tonalist imagines poetry as a reconstellating event taking place within the utter absence of regulating materials--no continuous rules or procedures, no continuous subject: a Mallarmean throw of dice which forms a totality to which we can choose to become subjects or choose to turn our backs. Each poem is a world entire, free (and perhaps the a tonalist only pretends to believe this) of all the messy straps and fetters which precede and therefore limit the non-abolitions of chance. In this, the work that an A Tonalist does may imagine a future world in which people are actually free as such. But if an A Tonalist occurs as subject and as vanishing in the whiteness of the page, in the spaces of non-being and absence--then the Flarfist situates her poetic production amidst excess, plurals and surplusses, landfill, oilspills, exploding populations of deer. She is the "Man on the Dump", the commodifying the, repurposing and recrafting the cast-offs and left-overs of the constant search for value. Seen like this, these two positions couldn't be more opposed, and couldn't be a more interesting pair of interlocutors. Maybe I'll write an essay.
The danger of the A Tonalist position above is a blithe ignorance of the materials which actually constitute its supposed autonomy and the freedom of each and every poetic event (most of these people seem too smart for this, 'cause like, yo, power is coming down from above, below inside, sidewards ); the danger of the Flarf position is that, instead of picturing the moment of the social and of capital to itself, it merely ends up reinstating it, reinforcing it; instead of pointing up and undressing power, it merely volunteers for it. From this derives Dan Hoy's half-thinking that Google was writing flarf poems and therefore the poets were corporate tools--this is a misunderstanding of the kind of work that a poet can do. Arranging or repurposing or re- or decontextualizing is also an act of "voice," an action of the subject [cf. "Pierre Menard, Author of Quixote"]--a snipping subject rather than a speaking subject, to quote David Larsen. Whether such vocal arrangements are manipulative or effective and what kind of sociality they picture can, of course, only be considered on a case by case basis.
As much, though, as these are irreconcilabe notions of poetry they are also hopelessly imbricated --this was the point of Kasey's original remarks, I think. For, in Brent's diagram, the machinery that produces the poetic "event" does so by separating looseness from the undesirable by-products of vagueness and negativity. This shows that for all of the Platonism of Badiou's intriguing and potent aesthetic theories--his desire for purity (or sobriety or a/tonement) is always going to produce a remainder as much as it produces a totality to which we choose or choose not to elect ourselves as contemporaries. At times, I kind of wish Badiou believed in history. But oh well. As for us who still live here, what happens to that atoned and purified vagueness and negativity is something that Brent's diagram can or will not show because, it seems, once the A / Tonalist has become subject to her event that vagueness and negativity no longer really exists. It devolves to someone else to deal with it. And along comes the flarfist bricoleur.