Saturday, April 17, 2010
I have been having problems with language lately, as in I've lost words lately, I'm entering into a borderline aphasia situation where gripping a pen is difficult where I blur words, this is the main way I react to anxiety. Have also been lapsing into verbally blurring my words when I speak, like I am a child again, I lose words, I forget them. I stop reading, I forget it, like a sort of amnesia. Which of course is freaking me out as I'm doing interviews for O Fallen Angel, and have to write the Semiotext(e) book, and be a generally articulate person, and instead I am a mute feral child only capable of eeking out "stopit" and "nomore."
This is to say that I have a lot to say about this recent dialogue (yes, dialogue!) on HTML Giant which I think was really really interesting but I'm unsure whether I'll be able to do more than Vanna White to it. The conversation revolves around a recent poem Blake Butler curated on the Everyday Genius lit site by Sean Kilpatrick, "fistfucking rules." Now, I'm not saying I psychotically adored the poem, but I thought it was interesting, I have to say I dug it, I think I understand somewhat the tradition of transgression it fits into, Artaud/Bataille etc.. The poem really isn't about anything but language, stringing together words volatile words banal words vulgar words, making surprising connections, "she commits burlesque diarrheas under the guise of pregnancy," yes, a sort of bad birth, a verbal diarrhea. "sing gangbang lullaby" might not be the accidental pleasures of "gravel in my menstrual flow," but it's close, yes, it's close.
But the poem really stirred up a storm on HTML Giant, with a lot of people confused why Blake would choose this poem, what was interesting about this poem, this poem that seems so empty of "content," as someone writes (I think of Kathy Acker confused over this "content." Is content meaning? Does every literary work have to have this meaning?) And I think beyond the poem, the discussion, the conversation, was very interesting in terms of what we think is "valid" for literature, and what literature should perform for "humanity."
And I jumped in, why? I don't know, I felt I would have something to grip onto, and I found myself in conversations with very smart writers/thinkers who disagreed with me, and we didn't shit over each other! And that was a good thing. I'm not going to repeat the conversation, read it, scroll, it's interesting. But the main uneasiness with the poem was it's apparent misogyny, fetishizing this female figure, these violent disgusting sex acts, as someone put it, I'm rewording, but, well, is fistfucking so disgusting? I write about fistfucking in my Monkey notebook I'm probably disgusting, some women enjoy it, yes, if it's done in a gentle, consensual, way, yes? it can be a crown royale sex act you have to lead up to it but I'm moving on. I mean, but "gangbang lullabye," yes, yes, I can see, there is a violence towards women or a woman in the poem, I'm not ignoring it. But even though I have also called "misogyny," especially in connection with HTML Giant, I think there is a difference between being assholish in dialogue directed against a real person and writing that wrestles with the unrepressed. And if we were going to disavow writers for being assholes, anyway, we would have almost no literature. And there are plenty of gangbang lullabyes in Sade. Even the idea of a "gangbang lullabye"! It's so absurd I like it. I'm sorry. I like it. I'm sorry. I'm not sorry. I like it.
But this gave strange yet invigorating birth in the comments to a conversation about what we expect art to be, how we expect art to function, we disagreed, and I found myself playing the position of "writers are not expected to be yogis." And should a piece of writing always make us feel love? I don't think so. I think there's validity to a text that makes us feel disgust, or discomfort, or rawness, or screw up our world, or confuse us, and the fact that this poem got under so many people's skin, the visceralness, it succeeded more than most. And Bataille and Artaud write the grotesque, a burlesque act of bodily fluids, and there is an ecstasy to the abjection in their works, I'm thinking Bataille's Divine Filth collection, Artaud's later poems, and a few volleyed back that Bataille and Artaud are successful, this was not successful, yes, that's possible, sure. And I understand and appreciate and even would agree with that position. The commenters who wrote "hey i love me some excrement" or excess but this wasn't excremental or excessive enough. Sure. Yes. I get that. Or those into the Vienna Actionists or Bataille. But do we give these writers/artists a certain legitimacy, a sort of pass? Their reception in their day was so different. I think of Sartre uncomfortable over Bataille's excess of emotions.
Mike Meginnis and I got into a conversation about hate, how there was hate in the poem, and is that wrong? Writing that comes from hate? I quote from William Gass: I write because I hate. Hard. I think there's validity in writing as protest, protest against a society, against a language, that is fueled by bile. I think of the Vienna Group, Thomas Bernhard, Elfriede Jelinek. D&G's concept of a minor language. Kafka. Kafka hates hard. Kavan hates hard. Camus? Sade? Sade is planning vengeance against his jailers. Even Rhys. Rhys in Good Morning Midnight. Sasha Jensen is rallying, rallying, against the wolf (even though she likes the wolf).
I am sitting at a cafe in Cleveland listening to an ancient lovely woman an old radical talk about distributing pamphlets in the old days and she is with a less ancient man and they are talking about French translations of insurrectionist texts and my heart is warmed. Love + Agitation.
Are we expected to be humanists in our literature? Does literature have to feature transcendence? Yes there is the ecstasy of Virginia Woolf and that is so essential so important to learn how to reexperience life these moments of being the writer as mystic but is that our only mode? How about writing against fascism? Woolf who felt that literature should only be written in the white light of truth, not the red light of anger. I disagree, have always disagreed, with this thesis from A Room of One's Own. Something essential about the red light. The writing I love to read, to write, resides in the red-light district. Burning. Writing that burns. Writing that wants to burn the house down. Writing that is anarchic. Artaud is spitting frothing from hate, I think of him delivering his lecture at the Sorbonne on Theater and the Plague, a plague to destroy, to destroy the world, the family, all this falseness, to release the freaks from captivity...I remember reading Ntozake Shange that all literature should have hope at the end, I'm not sure if that is true, I think literature should rally one's body, literature is best if it's felt on the body, if it makes you uncomfortable than maybe it's working.
A note on Woolf. I don't know why I'm thinking of this but remembering when I was teaching at the community college I was teaching a course on Women and Creativity (ha! when I'm speaking of destruction! I am divided the yogi/writer) and a library assistant who I was friendly with was taking a college course elsewhere on Woolf. And I remember her wrinkling her nose at Woolf, and saying "I don't know, she's so apathetic." Why apathetic I asked? Because she committed suicide. And I took the pages of Mrs. Dalloway and read read aloud to her, Clarissa opening up the windows to London city streets opening them back on her childhood at Bourton. Who could possibly be fucking apathetic who wrote "What a lark! What a plunge!" Woolf masturbating with exclamation points and semi-colons her phrases run all together. And I wish I had said to her: Sometimes those who commit suicide or attempt to or think about it or admit they think about it are those who most intensely experience life because they don't want to live a day that is not brimming with something.
But but but. This leads to another question. Do we expect our writers to be exemplar human beings? No of course we don't. The life matters the life is interesting. But what matters is the writing. And I will read Celine even though I would want to give him a sharp series of groinal kicks in real life and I read Henry Miller and I read Bataille because the writing the writing the writing. And ecstasy does not come without agony. Jouissance is with suffering. These are together. I am reading Clement's Syncope now, thinking of Nightwood. (Will write on this later.)
The guy who writes this interesting blog wrote many intelligent things to me, more intelligent than I could have phrased, about how there isn't the imbalance of power in Bataille or Artaud (I disagreed with him, noting the first-person male narrator in Bataille's prose works). He also argued that Artaud's little sisters are creations of Artaud, so it's really violence against himself. I'm not sure I agree with this. And then Stephen and I got into a conversation about transcendence, Rilke's notebooks, how Book One is alienated, Book Two is ecstatic, but do we expect all of our writers to be mystical humanists? How boring would that be?
This same writer, whose opinion I saw, respected, but still he wrote that this guy who wrote this fistfucking poem would be a terrible boyfriend. Again. If that was our standards for judging interesting or exciting literature Rilke too would be fucked, Rilke who left (pregnant?) Clara for Paris, the catalyst for Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. And now I'm thinking of Lou-Andreas Salome, all the S/M revenge fantasies of gangbang lullabyes Nietzsche must have had for Lou-Andreas Salome, and then oh he thought of his racist sister, she pops into his head, no that's wrong, wrong, him and Paul Ree and Lou their threesome like the Unbearable Lightness of Being for Philosophers. That photograph of Lou holding the whip and Paul and Friedrich are tied together their hearts connected to her like a string.
I am adding to this later, I am thinking about a string, I am thinking about this retreat I went to when I was in school, at the public school, maybe part of the park district, don't know, but it was a sharing caring let's not be in gangs kind of day retreat. And we all broke up into circles and shared our little traumas and feelings. And I remember talking about my sister who was an addict, which was sort of true, in that it was true, but sort of a lie, in that I didn't really remember my older half-sister but she did stay with us that one summer, and she was an addict, I guess, don't know, but I was really lying, maybe to get attention, maybe I got into the spirit of the whole thing. And I remember we all wore balls of yarn around our necks and we would untie the string and tie it to someone else's yarn necklace and this was giving someone a "fuzzy" like a hug.
And I'm thinking, does every story/poem/piece of writing have to end in a warm fuzzy? How false is that? Is the goal of writing to repair the trauma of society, or to give voice to the trauma, even if unrepentent or unrehabilitated?
This is a limp member of a searing manifesto that I hoped it to be, but I'm erecting it anyway.