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P L R

volume 1

issue 5

PRAGUE LITERARY REVIEW

november

2003

Art Workers Coalition, Q. And babies? A. And babies, a Vietnam War protest poster, 1969

The Meaning of History Arod Suliman “We and the present in which we live are situated in the midst of history. This present of ours becomes null and void if it loses itself within the narrow horizon of the day and becomes a mere present.” —Karl Jaspers, Vom Ursprung und Zeil der Geschichte

How do we begin, today, to speak of a “meaning of history”? Of a present, of this present in which we live, situated in the midst of history? To imagine history as an expanse laid down within which mankind may eke out an existence and find a habitation—an environment, in the broadest sense, which precedes us and, though it is never certain, may see us out … And not, in effect, to imagine history as some thing in our midst. This is perhaps to put a too base inflection upon what Jaspers has to say about the “origin and goal of history.” Nevertheless, to speak of origins and goals “of history” is to assume a basis, a fundamental principle or set of principles upon which history devolves, not merely as something imagined or conceived as the object of a discourse, but “that in the midst of which man dwells” and within which man dwells in, or rather with the “present.” I say with because, as Jaspers suggests quite nicely, “this present of ours” is something which may be lost, even as it is said to belong to us. That it may cease to be “this present of ours” and become a “mere present.” To be with the present supposes that the present is something it is possible to be without. But what does all of this mean? Today, when critics and philosophers alike speak of post-historicity and of the post-human condition, it seems that we have entered into what we might call the epoch of this “mere

present.” If there is any sense at all in the expression “the end of history,” it may well have to do with the notion that the universal view of history has shrunk to an increasingly narrow “horizontal” view. We inhabit a world in which lines of communication and lines of flight describe a simultaneous and paradoxical binding of man to a technological stratification of time and space. The pseudo-transcendentalism of virtual reality reduces man to a mere point within a grid-work of rigidly determined “horizons”—a point which, despite its apparent mobility, is increasingly fixed, coded and emptied of significance. At the “end of history” man is neither subject nor object but merely a node in the operations and transmission of pseudo-meaning of which the “mere present” is the exemplary figure. It is by no means an accident that this state of affairs has come to pass. The “mere present” is above all emblematic of the operations of laissez-faire. The “mere present” is not only what is left over when the present “loses itself within the narrow horizon of the day,” it is also what masks the fact of this loss, and what poses itself in place of “this present of ours,” disguising its inauthenticity through an appeal to the utopian fantasy of unbounded permissibility. Discourses of liberty and freedom are never as prevalent as they are when in the presence of despotism or absolutism. The virtues of democracy, egality, justice are thumped out today with an almost divinely inspired zeal. The sole “global superpower” insists upon the imposition of freedom throughout the world. The religiosity of this mania goes beyond the propagandistic cynicism of so-called Western capital. It is a matter, rather, of the apocalyptic register that accompanies the becoming “null and void” of the present and its giving way to a (continued on page 4)

A View From a Driving Car Aleš Debeljak From Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia, it takes only an hour car drive to reach Trieste on the northern Adriatic. Once the principal port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Trieste used to be a place of diverse ethnic and religious communities where Slovenians lived for centuries. After World War II, when the border between Italy and Yugoslavia was finally settled, the ethnic Slovene territory and at the same time the city’s hinterland, became part of Yugoslavia. The city itself was given to Italy. No longer an important port, Trieste gradually fell into state-pampered obscurity as an Italian culde-sac. However, for Slovenes whose Socialist Republic as a part of Yugoslavia shared a border with Italy, Trieste soon became important for new reasons. In the minds of several generations, the city appeared as a seductive place, burgeoning with shops that offered treasures unavailable at home. Trieste was the glitzy (and kitschy) embodiment of the West. Cross-border smuggling facilitated the transfer of people and finances, while ordinary families made regular excursions to the city in pursuit of consumerist fantasies. A special kind of hunger was sated in Trieste. This was a hunger for Fiat spare parts, nifty deodorant sticks, goose-down sleeping bags, fragrant espresso coffee, trendy Levi’s jeans, and other necessities of hard consumerism that could not be purchased in Ljubljana of soft communism. But Trieste has still another significance for Slovenes. On our first visit to Trieste, I explained it to Erica, my American wife who came in the early 1990s to post-communist Slovenia to make a family with me. Trieste was the place where, in the period between the two world wars, Italian Fascists burned down the

Slovene Cultural Centre and summarily executed a number of Slovenian nationalists in the effort to purge the area of its Slav element. Even today the Slovene minority in Italy, like its counterpart in the Carinthia region of neighbouring Austria, lacks certain constitutional rights as an ethnic group. Erica listened and then wryly observed, “You Slovenes see Trieste only in extremes: it’s either a hotbed of Fascism or a great big shopping mall.” And that’s as good a metaphor as any for the Slovenes’ view of the Western world. It is either something threatening or something purely pleasure-giving. A part of the West in a traditional sense of having lived through Renaissance, Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-reformation, Enlightenment and totalitarianism of Fascist and Communist variety, Slovenians nonetheless suffered under the weight of marginality. Slovenians experienced a peripheral industrial change and modernisation. This was embedded in the constant appetite of outsiders to conquer and subjugate this Southern Slavic people who never had a nation-state of their own. Charlemagne, the Franks, Napoleon, the Habsburgs, Mussolini and Hitler have all historically claimed Slovenian lands as their possession. No wonder, then, that a subtle difference that was for the Western observers lost in the convulsions of post-World War II order, retains a special meaning for Slovenian collective self-perception. Here is the difference: unlike Eastern Europe, Slovenia had not been liberated by the Russian Red Army. It had its own guerrilla forces that maintained considerable autonomy in regard to Marshal Tito’s partisan troops. Slovenian anti-fascist partisans for several years carried on their hats only a Slovenian flag, rather than a communist red star. This is important as it symbolically presents a primary drive behind the popular resistance to the Fascist and Nazi armies, that is, a national liberation. It was only after 1943 that a communist revolution won an upper hand. Further, Yugoslavia broke its formal accord with Soviet Union in 1948 and was thus never a part of a Soviet-designed military alliance, the Warsaw Pact. Then Yugoslavia went on to open its borders in early 1960s to allow its citizens to work in the West in general and in what was West Germany in particular. Relative familiarity with Western lifestyles and habits made the cultural shock of post-communist transition in Slovenia less drastic. But drastic changes they were. Slovenians have experienced three major changes, beginning with the success in a defence against the communist-led Yugoslav army in the Ten day War twelve summers ago. Second, they had to reject a totalitarian regime and establish a pluralist democracy. Third, they had to set up their nation-state. In a sense, this enormous task was unique, as most other East European countries could draw on a history of more or less distinct statehood. Not so here. For the first time in their long history of marginality, Slovenians became free to be fully responsible for their own existence only a good decade ago. This paramount event, however, had been vaguely prefigured, romantically hoped for, and, against all rational odds, anticipated by many Slovenian writers and poets. Writers were traditionally invested with the obligation and the risk of acting as the keepers of the national flame, guardians of the moral, social and spiritual values embedded in the Slovenian language. It was precisely the language that represented the foremost national treasure and was a distinctive mark of Slovenian identity. Consider: the pre-eminent Romantic poet, France Prešeren has, in his The Baptism at the Savica /1836/, created an epic narrative in verse. It both dramatises and mythologises the lost battle of pagan Slovenian ancestors and their subsequent conversion to Christianity in the 8th century. Savica, the actual waterfall in the Julian Alps, is a near-pilgrimage place for Slovenian people, as they more or less spontaneously grasp the model for Slovenian collective life that Prešeren laid out in his epic poem: resisted conversion and uneasy adaptation. The foundational myth of Slovenians is of course not a myth in a sense of anonymous collective narrative. It was designed by a known person who, in turn, became part of the myth. (continued on page 4)

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Lost and Found Bruce Andrews

Contents 1 1 2 2

5 9 11 11 11 12 13 17

The Meaning of History Arod Suliman A View From a Driving Car Aleš Debeljak Lost and Found Bruce Andrews The Worldwide Literati Mobilisation Network: Personation, Poetry Hoaxes and the Internet Damian Judge Rollison Doc Williams’s Position, Updated Bob Perelman Scissors To Widow’s Weeds Ian Ayers Body Simulations Nicole Tomlinson Among Vents / Life Gets Weirder Larry Sawyer Leviathans and Stalking Horses Drew Milne The Liquid Undertow of Purpose Kate Fagan International Regionalism and the State of Poetry in Australia John Kinsella The Wall Joshua Cohen

17 From Guests of Space Anselm Hollo 18 The Trip, around us Malissa McCarthy 19 Agamemnon Tom McCarthy 19 From Responder Michael Rothenberg 19 Wet Bite Nettle Andrew Norris 20 The Molecular Invasion McKenzie Wark 21 Jean-Michel Basquiat©: Identity and the Art of (Dis)empowerment Louis Armand 23 Family Travis Jeppesen 24 Letter from New York Adrian Hornsby

I’m staying up late night during the Big Blackout, reading Michael Gottlieb’s LOST AND FOUND (New York: Roof Books, 2003), the affective ambit of its “Deep Vertical File Cabinet” activated by flashlight (& votive red Corazon candle). “The bright line” formal elegant snazz “the candid snap, / the large detail” on the spot with the telling clip, “the faltering isolate” end-of-the-rope troubles the social. To make it “a kind of decision tree.” B-1. This is nonfiltre, the aisles of units fully formed—“something we can all feel / good about abandoning.” “A through-and-through.” “A view-finger, that’s what’s missing.” B-2. “Transitions, Extreme Twist Frame”— “breakage and peradventure” pivot into what’s amiss, “like refusal simple,” the insouciant perforation as “a topical reagent.” B-3. “Unmanned” because of “the great intervallic leaps.” “How much smaller may we dice you?” Fronting “a flurry of affect,” “and the particulates.” “Amour propre splayed across the page.” “Think of me as a sort of temporary filling.” “No one can help you now.” B-4. In “our familiar, amicably stabilized ruins,” “— those failed familiars … / our ganged evasions.” “Themes and practices / not uncloyingly / erode inevitably into roles and responsibilities,” compensation gathered up inconsolably. Monstrance, we are the walking reproof. B-5. Reading as “a consent decree” “and its thralldom.” This Noun Left Intentionally Blank. “You come to believe you can ‘collect them all,’” force & face “disarmed in the face of … ourselves.” To remember—or better, to forget. C-1. There are pinprick impulses & there are felttip impulses. A pell mell tonic smashing up the overspecified, unerringly not quite familiar, blusterless & jolting. There’s “a certain jouissance attached” to what “could have been even more better.” Trip up the retuned riposte “prostrate from abject.” “In lieu of, / always.” “What one once bowed to” “not unlike an exaggerated startle response.” C-2. Even the facts are pastiches—to keep you from getting demi-remanded to the doxauthorities; “like mortality, a kind of haring, not a chase, / another routine” whacked by merchandising in a slo’-syruped-D J Screw pace trying to become less right-handed. “A kind of risorgimento / of the unacknowledged.”

... PLR ..... Photograph by Errol Sawyer, 2002

volume 1 issue 5

PRAGUE LITERARY REVIEW Publisher Editor Associate Editors Design Technical Support Distribution

november 2003

Roman Kratochvíla Louis Armand Aleš Debeljak, Drew Milne, Howard Sidenberg lazarus Radim Ševèík Tereza Vachunová

The PLR is published monthly. The opinions expressed in these pages are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editor, publisher or advertisers. Contents copyright © 2003 the PLR. All rights revert to authors on publication. Please send subscription, advertising, or submission queries to review@shakes.cz, or to the PLR, Krymská 12, 101 00 Praha 10, Czech Republic. Tel./Fax: +420 271740839. Copies of the PLR in pdf format are available on request. www.shakes.cz/plr

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C-3. “What we did to ourselves / and do still.” The fond breaking of the mould. “What do we have to show for ourselves”?—“a fakebook / writ large” “interposed countersignatures.” “There are adults / in need of supervision” “schooled to respond without reply.” Rescind their ways of making us shut up. C-4. “The unbowed resignation” “miming inaction.” As “a kind of constructive disavowal” went into syndication. The improper violence-averse study of businesspeoplekind vouching for a counterresolution. C-5. “All of a sudden, seeing us all as just more special pleading, / and that was not enough.” Instead, the lost is unfounded, jouissant as any “appreciated hope, / we try / to breathe life into.” 

The Worldwide Literati Mobilisation Network: Personation, Poetry Hoaxes and the Internet Damian Judge Rollison Contemporary theorists of information technology can sometimes sound like Old Testament prophets. In the case of N. Katherine Hayles, the author of How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (1999), this air of apocalyptic zeal is likely the result of the rubric of the “posthuman,” a term that suggests several things Hayles expressly positions her argument against, such as William Gibson’s notion in Neuromancer of a bodiless virtuality in cyberspace. Hayles by her own account intends the term to convey “post-liberal-humanist subjectivity.” Admittedly this doesn’t roll off the tongue or have the polemical force of “posthuman,” but the distinction is important: Hayles’s vision of the information system as a substitute for an outmoded concept of selfhood does not include the proposition that we are “moving into” a posthuman “phase”—indeed, she suggests that a shift in perspective reveals the posthuman (I’d prefer to call it the “posthumanist”) as a lens that can be applied throughout the history of the human being as a technological innovator. Such a shift in perspective is vividly illustrated by Hayles in her account of John Searle’s “Chinese room” analogy as reimagined by information theorist Edwin Hutchins: Searle challenged the idea that machines can think by imagining a situation in which communication in Chinese can take place without the actors knowing what their actions meant. Suppose, Searle said, he was stuck inside a room, he who knows not a word of Chinese. Texts in Chinese are slid through a slot in the door. He has in the room with him baskets of Chinese characters and a rulebook correlating the symbols written on the texts with other symbols in the basket[s].

Using the rulebook, he assembles strings of characters and pushes them through the door. Although his Chinese interlocutors take these strings to be clever responses to their inquiries, Searle has not the least idea what the texts he has produced mean. Therefore it would be a mistake to say that machines can think, he argues, for like him they produce comprehensible results without comprehending anything themselves. In Hutchins’s neat interpretation, Searle’s argument is valuable precisely because it makes clear that it is not Searle but the entire room that knows Chinese … In this distributed cognitive system, the Chinese room knows more than any of its components, including Searle himself. The situation of modern humans is akin to Searle in the Chinese room, for every day we participate in systems whose total cognitive capacity exceeds our individual knowledge … Hutchins reveals the extent to which Searle’s concept of the thinking machine as paradox depends on his tacit acceptance of a subjectivity which is arbitrarily delimited by the bounds of the physical body. To illustrate the ubiquity of distributed cognitive systems in the modern world, Hayles mentions “such devices as cars with electronic ignition systems, microwaves with computer chips that precisely adjust power levels, fax machines that warble to other fax machines, and electronic watches that communicate with a timing radio wave to set themselves and correct their date.” One notes the instrumental function of most of her examples; even the fax machine, the only text transmission medium in Hayles’s list, is nothing more than a delivery device for a message that has already been composed. The networking of personal computers on a worldwide scale, on the other hand, represents something more akin to a common sense notion of subjective interiority in which the machine prosthesis represents a constitutive component. This is precisely because it is possible to conceive of a partition, like the closed door of the Chinese room, between the virtual and the real. Hayles argues convincingly against conceiving of the virtual as a space cleared of bodies, reminding us that


contact between physical self and machine engenders virtuality; and yet this vision of machine as prosthesis would seem to be excessively dependent on a notion of the human subject as a producer of virtual systems rather than, as our own experiences in cyberspace will bear out, one among innumerable co-producers in the larger context of response. We are not, in other words, as much like Searle in the Chinese room as we are like the Chinese interlocutors outside it, sending messages into a virtual space which has already

Alan Sokol, physicist at NYU

been constituted as a universe of responses from more or less unknowable sources. The partition between the virtual and the real is not something we conceive of as a divide within our own psyches—this would be Gibson’s model again—but rather as a distinction between modes of communication and, consequently, as differently constituted social spheres. (This is not to suggest that virtuality, at least in a more limited form, has no history previous to the establishment of the internet as a widely available cyberspace medium. We might instead think of the internet as the first stable infrastructure for the maintenance of the virtual as a space of social interaction.) It’s by now a cliché to say that e-mail, for

Andrew Ross, editor of Social Text

many of us the primary mode of internet communication and one that might stand as metonymic for the cluster of similar modes that includes chat rooms, message boards, and instant messaging, resides as a style of selfpresentation somewhere between telephone conversation and what we now call snail mail. Like the telephone, e-mail favours short, spontaneous exchanges that are characterised by affect; like a physical letter, e-mail potentially gives the composer the leisure of forethought. One of the more important distinctions between e-mail and its precedents, however, is the sense under which we generally operate, especially in an environment like the listserv, that all communication is already coded as virtual. We all know how frighteningly easy it would be for someone with malicious or merely playful intent to masquerade as you or me by means of an easily obtainable anonymous e-mail account. Even when the exchange we are engaged in is authorised by

our personal acquaintance with a correspondent, there always exists the ghost of a chance that the persona constituted by a body of e-mail messages—the self as projected into the machinery, what some internet theorists call an “avatar”—has no connection with the flesh and blood person. It will always be “someone else,” to be sure, but that “someone else” will be operating in a vacuum of associations, a situation of radical instability as regards age, gender, location, personal beliefs, and intentions. That malicious guerrilla invasions into the stable field of social interaction do not occur more frequently is testament to the power of our largely unconscious belief in a one-to-one correspondence between the physical body and the represented self. Such invasions do occur, however, and when they do we are reminded that unitary selfhood can just as easily be viewed as a fiction in which we all willingly suspend our disbelief. That way lies madness, Descartes might have said. But there are intermediate conditions: one of them, lying halfway between unconscious stability and hyperconscious multiplicity, is the conscious duplicity of the confidence game. This game relies on the disarmingly simple pretext that the “mark” must not recognise that a game is being played at all. The con artist simply relegates represented intention to the realm of game playing. The con in one form or another is probably as old as the notion of social advantage, but the growth of modern urban and global culture, with concomitant reliance on disembodied modes of communication, has made the con game into an increasingly ready-made activity, requiring only that the con artist deploy communication systems already in place in ways that violate their ostensible purposes. What the con game reveals about representational selfhood has implications for any reading of virtual culture; the con will also serve, if unexpectedly, as a means for introducing the subject of poetics. Twentieth Century Poetry Hoaxes George Landow has famously argued in the two editions of his book Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology that the hypertext environment fulfils the conditions outlined variously by Derrida, Barthes, Foucault, Deleuze, LéviStrauss, Lyotard, and other structural and poststructural theorists—his survey is broad and comprehensive—for a textuality that radically undermines the centrality of the author function; and furthermore that “Whereas terms like death, vanish, loss, and expressions of depletion and impoverishment colour critical theory,” the utopic vision of hypertext theorists is characterised by “the vocabulary of freedom, energy, and empowerment.” “Most poststructuralists,” Landow suggests, “write from within the twilight of a wishedfor coming day; most writers of hypertext, even when addressing the same subjects, write from within the dawn.” What determines this difference in outlook turns out to be the hypertextual condition itself, which in Landow’s account contrasts favourably with “the limitation—indeed, the exhaustion—of the culture of print.” Trapped in this outmoded paradigm, poststructuralists must content themselves with “limitation and shortcoming, [and with] a moody nostalgia, often before the fact, over the losses their disillusionment has brought and will bring.” There can be little doubt that the inauguration of the hypertextual condition represents a watershed in the history of the textual subject, and Landow was among the first to diagnose its significance. His account turns crucially, however, on a binary distinction between print and digital that can occlude the presence of print technology as the persistent base from which imaginings of hypertext and the virtual take flight. That metaphor signifies doubly: hypertext flees the confines of print, but print remains its launching pad and landing zone. In much the same way, the traditional liberalhumanist subject persists as the ground of intention and representation, despite how successful poststructuralism and information theory have been in demonstrating that, as (continued on page 15)

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“A Car” A View From a Driving Car (from page 1)

The German public might know little about Prešeren, but its ears may have become familiar with the most-frequently played product of Slovenian musical craft. A polka by the Avseniki band won global popularity, albeit under the more marketable name of Oberkreiners. It is better, I suggest, to listen to a modern rendition of the folk song All the Wreaths are White as performed by popular ethno-revivalistVlado Kreslin. The song’s melancholy melody carries whiffs of flatlands in the country’s Northeast region and its words intone the sorrows of a young woman whose wedding wreath is still green, that is to say, not yet ready. It is this kind of perverse comfort of longing for the unattainable that makes Slovenes rarely ready for momentous decisions. Yet, when my country went in late March 2003 to the referendum to vote for the entry into the European Union, it performed precisely that: a momentous decision of similar historical importance as the referendum that gave legitimacy to the independent nation-state in June 1991. It is thus safe to say that after the tragic collapse of the Slovenians’“larger home” of Yugoslavia, the majority of Slovenians came to realise that it is impossible to live sensibly without some anchorage in the collective, although it is clearly possible to die senselessly in its name. The prospect of entering a new “larger home,” the European Union, is a prospect that does not instil many fears in Slovenians. Equipped with historical experience, they pin their hopes on the federal arrangement of the common European house that is likely to ensure both a democratic life of individual citizens and viable conditions for a collective specificity. Insofar as collective life is dependent on at least a shared language, Slovenian historical experience contains a valuable instruction for European integration, an instruction that Karl Markus Gauss elegantly developed in his book of essays, European Abecedarium. Europe will flourish if it is a Europe of mother tongues and specific cultures, not a Europe of political states only. Having lived without one for so long, Slovenians and their minorities in neighbouring Italy, Austria and Hungary understand very well that constitutional arrangements and state formations come and go: what remains to bear witness to a specific collective life is language and its maddening and wonderful idiosyncrasies. If we, European citizens, really look forward to living together, we should first make a serious attempt to familiarise ourselves precisely with the cultural idiosyncrasies of other European peoples. The art of learning, I admit, is long and life is short and filled with prejudice, but it is worth trying to pursue the old-fashioned desire that “neighbours friends, not foes shall be,” as France Prešeren sang. 

“The Meaning of History” (from page 1)

type of discursive hysteria: the paradoxical and inflationary “diminution” of the horizon of meaning. It has become, in fact, a singular preoccupation of the monolithic American state to secure this horizon, and to do so under cover of

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a discourse about values of which it demonstrates or expresses nothing. When somebody uses the expression “homeland security,” we need to ask what is being secured, for whom, why, and indeed what this “homeland” is and where this “homeland” is located? If by “homeland” we are to understand one’s proper dwelling place (“this present of ours,” for example), then we also need to ask how such a “place” may in fact be secured, and whether or not this securing isn’t really a nullification and voiding, or disenfranchisement. The religious overtones of this expression, “homeland security,” also raises the question of “to what end”? For it is not merely as a response to some apocalyptic vision that one invokes such a thing as “homeland security,” but as an expression of an apocalyptic intent: an end, not to history, but of history; the erection and securing of a “present state” within the secure confines of “the narrow horizon of the day.” Moreover, it is an expression of the intent to secure this end itself, and in such a way to secure the “goal of history” and do so in the name of its “original purpose.” This, at

absolute to bind all others to its service and to the fetishistic consumption of its self-perpetuating spectacle of power. It has long been acknowledged that it is the tendency of laissez-faire to reserve the idea of freedom to itself. And consequently it has long been observed that this is one of the means by which capitalism, removed from the regulatory apparatus of crown or state, tends towards monopoly. The antagonisms played out in global economic “competition” are not simply an exercise in polite sportsmanship, but the very real practice of all-against-all or dog-eat-dog. Capitalism, despite the promise of its name to realise potentialities (i.e. to capitalise upon), is fundamentally conservative and dominated by the centrism also implied in the term “capital.” The so-called freedom of laissez-faire is a mere foil for the what amounts to the suppression of competition and forms of “deviation from the norm,” with the objective of establishing and maintaining a self-interested status quo. The fixity imposed by all forms of status quo should never be confused with those forms of

least, is the basic premise of all theological or pseudo-theological discourse, of which the current major temporal power’s enforcement of universal values is simply one more example, though not for that less threatening to precisely those values in whose cause its violence is supposedly enlisted. It is ultimately beside the point to ask what “homeland security” is intended to secure this “homeland” again. It is obvious to all who care to see that the various wars invoked or declared by America in recent years have been little more than the manifest extension of a rhetorical exercise. The consequences of this exercise, however real and however devastating, have nothing whatsoever to do with the premise of the security argument, although they are assuredly the starkest expressions of its baselessness. In a very real sense, laissez-faire (the freedom or right to “defend” oneself in whatever manner one sees fit?) is the condition upon which authoritarianism perpetuates itself by invoking a “freedom-from” or indeed “freedom-against” (as if such a thing were possible). Moreover it describes the condition consequent upon the acts of violence perpetrated by absolutist power—as, in other words, chaos and instability: the unregulated marketplace of social Darwinism. When absolutism speaks the language of freedom its meaning is the abolition of stability, infrastructure, and regulation which, however unfashionable those terms may be, are the pre-requisites of individual liberty and for the type of volitional mobility eulogised by certain postmodernist thinkers. But freedom without “truth” is merely licence; and licence is the means by which the egoistic principle converts itself into “absolute freedom,” or rather the freedom of the ego-

stability upon which true freedom devolves. Even, or especially if such forms of stability exist only in principle (or as a structural principle): the principle of truth, for example. It is only by making an appeal to such principles that notions like freedom escape being purely normative (i.e. subject to laissez-faire) and become relational. That is, as something which stands in an open relation to the field of meaning as a whole, and not merely to the horizons of semantic capital (as we might say). Truth, like the present of which Jaspers writes, is something which must stand open to “possession by all”; it must be a general principle, that is “in the public domain,” however able we may be of becoming dispossessed of it. Perhaps truth is only this condition of general availability, of general disclosedness, and its voidance is tantamount to a theft of meaning. To equate laissez-faire with “democracy,” on the other hand, is to confuse democracy properly conceived with the cult of the lowest common denominator. Such a “democracy’ stands upon a principle of the availability to all of the “one truth,” that which affirms the hegemony of its own idea, which renders all equal before its law, and which reduces truth to the form of a mere truism. Like the divine logos, its word is given that all may receive it and that all must receive it, or be damned. As in the story of Genesis, all men are equally free to submit to the will of the almighty or else be condemned to the privation of wilderness and desert. The sprit of laissez-faire is an enchainment to such a “one truth,” which ipso facto is the “truth” of laissez-faire. But this truth, as we ought to know, is nothing more than a sham truth; just as one may say a “mere present.” The idea of history founders against the institutions of this “mere” truth.

From the implications of laissez-faire something endless opens up into the past and future; an endlessness without regard for humanity; a “past’ and “future” indifferent not only to human concerns but to the very concept of humanity. This endlessness is of the “end of history,” as that which secures itself against humanity in humanity’s name. This is the condition referred to by some as “post-historicity” or the “post-human,” whose descriptions of the “human manifold” tend towards fatalism and hopelessness, not despite but because of the manifest possibility that things could be otherwise. The universal vision of history has faltered upon a belief in the impotence of humanity to endure meaningfully beyond its own “mere” present. That is, beyond what might be called its “epoch” against which the posthuman would define a discontinuity, a closure, an endnote (it doesn’t matter how interminable this endnote may be, of course). Indeed, this post-humanity, through the spectacle of a denunciation, affects the appearance of an historical truth. It is a truism that man wishes to view history as a whole in order to understand himself, but to what end? To be post-human is to stand outside the human epoch and view it as an object, or as a spectacle. The truth of this epoch, closed within its wholeness, within its discontinuous “present,” is the truth that derives solely from dead things. A truth emanating from a void. Even supposing such a view of “history” is possible, what could the point or purpose of this edification, of this “understanding ourselves,” be? Is this not somehow analogous to that most hackneyed of fictional devices: to have one’s life flash before one’s eyes before the instant of death or of death’s onset? To understand ourselves—is that therefore to relinquish or enable us to relinquish responsibility for “our present” condition, for that which most belongs to us in our own time of being, by virtue of such an “understanding”? As with the more liberal notions of religious conversion, one must “see oneself”; and this seeing-oneself, and understanding (the truth of) what one sees, abolishes our previous relationship to our actions which—no longer actions as such—are reduced to mere facts, objectified within an already “historical” discourse, the relics of a “mere present.” This procedure, which assumes the form of a reflection (a cogitare me cogitare), not only separates understanding from responsibility, but situates this understanding as an “end point” and indeed as an historical “purpose.” To understand is to bestow meaning upon history and in this way to stand beyond it (i.e. the end of history). But what reason can there be for such an understanding if it itself has rendered the “present” historical condition as a posthumous condition? And what is the moral good of understanding if history is able to realise itself within the fact of understanding’s ultimate indifference to those “former actions” it reflects upon and their consequences? That is, if to arrive at understanding is to have departed from that now foreign terrain which is the past of history. If today the question of the “meaning of history” is tied up with an on-going crisis in a belief in humanity or the project of humanism, this may have to do with what amounts to an exhaustion of certain concepts traditionally associated with these discourses; with freedom, truth, and universal history. It may also be that, beyond the machinations of political process and economic globo-centrism, this state of affairs is a consequence not of an inherent devaluation of values, even less a critical re-valuation of all values, but an impoverishment of human invention. That is, of the invention of humanity and of a present, beyond the “mere present” of historical timeliness, through which the “meaning of history” could accede to truth. It may be that this impoverishment of human invention is an aftereffect of a century in which futurity was imagined, projected and “realised” in more radical and extreme forms, and with greater urgency, than ever before, and which has consequently left the effort of modernity exhausted, reduced to the parodic enterprise of recycling artefacts of a “mere present” in stupid and blind obedience to an idea which no longer has any meaning. 


Doctor Williams’s Position, Updated Bob Perelman

news jealously. “The Clouds” contains an apt emblem:

My heart rouses thinking to bring you news of something that concerns you and concerns many men. Look at what passes for the new. You will not find it there but in despised poems. It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there. Hear me out for I too am concerned and every man who wants to die at peace in his bed besides. [II, 318]

a rank confusion of the imagination still uncured, a rule, piebald under the streetlamps, reluctant to be torn from its hold.

Trivia In the early 1950s when William Carlos Williams wrote these lines in “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” poetry had recently been pushed to the unfamiliar precincts of the front pages by the crescendoing public drama of Ezra Pound: the raving, but clearly pro-fascist radio speeches during the war; the aborted treason trial at the war’s end; and the firestorm over his being awarded the Bollingen Prize in 1949. Williams’s forced withdrawal from consideration for the position of Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress in 1952 had recently been something of a public event, though in this, as with most everything else, he was overshadowed by Pound. One factor contributing to this defeat was his lifelong association with Pound. In “Asphodel,” after decades of absorbing, chafing against, and seconding Pound’s lessons, Williams offers a correction, more socially nuanced and ethically capacious, to Pound’s absolutist “Literature is news that STAYS news.” Pound grants writing (only the best writing, of course) extraordinary powers and brooks no personal, spatial or temporal obstacle to legibility: it IS, and it STAYS, news. For Williams, news is equally valuable, but he admits how difficult it is for news to reach its potential audience. Many get nothing. Such senses of frustration have mostly fallen away for many readers, however, as the passage has come to stand as a proclamation of poetry’s virtues with its failures omitted. The title for Adrienne Rich’s essays, What Is Found There, quarries out a positive assertion; more recently, as controversies over Amiri Baraka’s “Somebody Blew Up America” and the cancellation of Laura Bush’s poetic soiree have again put poetry on the front page, “the news from poems” has become a basic justification of poetry or simply a synonym for it. The difficulties and absence at the heart of Williams’s claim have been erased. Williams’s current centrality in American poetry is an odd fact of literary history. And when his poetry is read closely, there is an often resistant oddness that can’t be resolved by appeals to voice, theory, or history. These point to what I am interested in here, qualities in Williams’s work I call social and poetic candour, terms I will be discussing later. For now, I don’t want to be misunderstood as intending to sweep away all prior readings. The useful and, at best, inspiring achievements of the poetry are there, as many readers have found; but, as many readers are also undoubtedly aware, Williams’s work is full of awkward and problematic moments. I have come to see these not simply as blemishes, miscalculations or carelessness, which, if we like Williams, are to be overlooked or forgiven, or, if we don’t, serve to prove that he’s second-rate. Rather, they are a fundamental part of his writing. This doesn’t redeem them. What, in the ‘Eumaeus’ chapter of Ulysses, looks at first like terrible writing becomes yet another example of Joyce’s mastery: nothing like this happens with Williams. Nor is it a matter of Williams exemplifying a proletarian agenda, a democratic modernist writing unrefined work to yank elite readers down to the real world. For all of its use of everyday language and events around him, Williams’s poetry can no more be mistaken for ordinary language than can Dickinson’s or Zukofsky’s. For all its legibility, it guards its

By writing the word “rule,” Williams posits its existence, but he is unable to tear it loose from the imagination; he has no cure for its confusions. The same unresolved struggle is present in his sense of news. The still-prevalent received idea makes the modernist poet the one who knows and who challenges readers to overcome their own ignorance. But Williams’s pronouncement that “It is difficult to get the news from poems” applies to him as much as to those who die miserably without it: their condition is part of his—and our—difficulty. When pressed, the sentence itself is quite slippery—odd thing to say, since the language couldn’t be simpler or more direct. It’s not hard to place it in poetic history: the stakes are obvious. This is the American idiom that Williams supported in the face of Pound’s and Eliot’s Euro-historical erudition. However, even though “news” and “get” are the most basic American words, they are not simple or clear. Why is it difficult to get the news from poems? Is it a lack of general literary competence? “People don’t get how to read poetry.” Is it a lack of expertise? “People (who read for plot or imagery rather than noticing form) don’t get what really makes a poem news.” Is it a problem of circulation? “It’s hard to get the crucial poetry books in local libraries and bookstores.” Or, using “get” in its most untranslatable sense, is it that pedantic imaginations, inflexible libidos and tin ears are impervious to poetic inspiration? “They just don’t get it.” This last sense makes news quasitranscendental, something like the “good news” of the Gospel. Is this the “imprecision” that both Pound and Eliot abhor? Their poetics are distinct from one another, but both supply criteria that Williams’s poetry fails to meet. For Pound poetry had to be clear; for Eliot, it has to embody hieratic power. Though Pound consistently gave Williams himself a ration of praise for his “opacity,” it was not a quality he praised elsewhere. In ABC of Reading he admitted logopoeia, “the dance of the intellect among the words,” but by mid-century, words had to dance in their prescribed places: the necessity for an unwobbling pivot made le mot juste the only acceptable poetic currency. What we now call polysemy was taboo. Eliot’s distaste for the contemporary vulgate was spelled out in carefully conventional terms in “Burnt Norton”: “Words strain / … / Under the tension, slip, slide, perish, / Decay with imprecision” [175]. Williams’s language is imprecise; “polysemous” is a bit grand to apply to it, though “socially polysemous” is not inaccurate. A paradoxical praise-adjective would be “trivial,” in the ancient sense of tri-via: where

three roads meet. There is traffic on those roads, jammed in contradiction, zealous, lost, wandering, purposeful, mired in the boredom of blockage. It’s where we still live. Inspriation: Williams and Ion Thinking to bring you my sense of the news from “Asphodel,” my heart rouses, but not without qualms. Rouses because I am continually struck by the claim these lines make; familiarity does not flatten it. At times, I can find it inspiring, to use that most suspect word. It is not simply saying that poetry can enrich any life—an easy enough proposition to agree with, especially for those already committed to poetry. The claim here intends a wider reach, out beyond any established audience to society at large, and thus it is harder to believe. The news from poems, if it is received, can answer to the sharpest personal and the largest social demands. Can this be true? Like the audience listening to Homer in the Ion, is my feeling of inspiration simply a link

of contagious excitement, attached to nothing more substantial than what I read to be Williams’s feeling of excitement? Despite being 2,300 years old and despite the fact that the poetry it discusses is oral, the Ion offers an interesting frame in which to consider “Asphodel.” This is not because of the poem’s references to the Iliad, which are either vacuous (“The sea! The sea! / Always / when I think of the sea / there comes to mind / the Iliad …”) or almost comically inappropriate in a poem that, among things, is meant as an apology for the poet’s infidelities (“there comes to mind / the Iliad / and Helen’s public fault / that bred it.”). Rather, comparing Williams to Ion, the rhapsody brings out an interesting implications for both poet and reader. Coming into dialogue with Socrates, Ion is certain of poetry’s emotional power and epistemological plenitude. Its power is undeniable: the evidence is there in his body and the bodies of others: when the poem is pitiful, he weeps, the audience weeps; when it is horrific, his hair stands on end, their hair stands on end. He also believes that his prize-winning recitations of Homer give him access to all the skills and knowledge represented in the poems, until Socrates shows him (and us) that what he considered to be his knowledge is neither his

nor knowledge, that his words are shaped “not by art or science … but by … divine possession” [536c]. In the Ion Plato does not have Socrates spell out the conclusions that are so emphatic in the Republic, but they are implicit here: poetry’s unwieldy power makes people dangerous: Ion and his audience become emotional automatons following the feelings scripted by the poems; and these scripts sprawl promiscuously across ethical boundaries. In “Asphodel” poetry arrives in much the same way as it does for Ion, despite the different poetic technology: Williams speaks elegiacly of “the words / made solely of air / or less, / that came to me / out of the air / and insisted / on being written down” (II, ). While there is no Socrates in “Asphodel” nor any magnetised audience, there is the initial enthusiasm: “My heart rouses / thinking to bring you news.” But what is the news? “News / of something.” A cynical reading could parse this as a variant (in the American idiom) of Lear’s substanceless fulmination: “I will do such things— / What they are, yet I know not; but they shall be / The terrors of the earth” [II, iv, 275-6]. Or, in a harsher reading, one could inflect it into a naive version of the ‘drumroll … pratfall’ trope that Eliot dramatises “Prufrock,” where the initial stanza leads up to the portentous “overwhelming question” only to dissolve into light verse: “Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’ / Let us go and make our visit” [13]. Such an inflection would read like so: “I bring you [the most crucial] news of … [um,] something.” This is too harsh. But however one reads it, the news remains unspecified: it fills him with enthusiasm but ultimately he does not know what this news is and cannot translate it out of the medium of his enthusiasm. Possibly the news is nothing but his enthusiasm. This lack of specific content can be a virtue since breadth of address seems the point. The news concerns “you” —Williams’s wife Flossie—and “many men,” a universality which is then amplified: “every day” men suffer the want of this news; it concerns “every man.” However, if poetic news should be construed as purely a function of personal and universal address rather than its content, what happens next in “Asphodel” isn’t all that encouraging: just a few lines after announcing that he has crucial news for her, the poet has to beg Flossie to keep listening, “Hear me out,” a refrain which is varied throughout the poem. Location, Location, Location Thinking to transmit the news from “Asphodel” via critical prose written at the beginning of the 21st Century, I am filled with qualms, which are not helped by my having used, straightaway and without any saving irony or contextual specificity, “inspiring” and “true,” words which mark criticism as bellelettristic and poetry as naive, ahistorical, capewielding. The problem with Williams, to miscite Ashbery, is there is not enough of a problem. In 2003, it’s not easy to think of his work as news, especially “Asphodel,” a late poem where his avant-garde antagonisms have all but evaporated and where the language—sometimes eloquent, sometimes sloppy or banal— is never difficult in a modernist sense. Williams is now a central figure in American poetry history. But the centre is a bland place to be, at best. Williams scores points as a modernist, but in terms of critical cachet he’s not in the first rank. The basic elements of his poetics are easy to domesticate: the American idiom; the variable foot; “no ideas but in things,” “a poem is a machine made of words.” That poetry should use the contemporary idiom has long been poetic common sense; “no ideas but in things” can be taken as a slogan gesturing rather abstractly toward materialism; “a poem is a machine of words” as a slogan aligning the poet with modernity; the variable foot might encode Williams’s dynamic intuitions behind his own poetic practice, but the only point on which readers agree is that it’s a vague formulation. It does not take much reading outside the critical demonstration-pieces to find that many of Williams’s poems don’t stay within the confines of any of these notions. His work is hard to characterise or evaluate. He has become an honoured predecessor for an uncomfortably wide range of contemporary poets. Heterogeneous in itself, his work has had unmistakable influence on a contradictory

5


set of heirs, leading to the polemical plainness of Levine and Rich as much as to O’Hara’s erotic wit, Ginsberg’s prophetic politics, and the textual activism of Language Writing. Just about any poem not in regular meter could claim Williams as a precursor. His work points to the future in contradictory ways. For Charles Bernstein, Williams’s poetic iconoclasm remains an unfinished project. He sees a tamed Williams as all that the academy and other gate-keeping institutions allow to circulate: “As Williams passes through the narrow and well-guarded gates of official verse culture, it likely will be at the expense of so decontextualising and neutralising his work that it will be unrecognisable on his own terms … official verse culture is no more hospitable to Williams’s literary politics now than it was fifty years ago.” For Robert Pinsky, it is the democratic Williams who awaits acknowledgment: Williams’s “influence has been immense, but his model has yet to be completely realised”; his work aspired to put poetic innovation at the service of cultural legibility: “originality of technique and the ambition to write a poetry of American life, in language based on the American idiom, embodied a single, unified project” [102-3]. Logically, both positions value the range of Williams’s address and the vividness of his language; but when placed in a Bourdieuvian literary field, the poets represent starkly polarised positions: Poet Laureate vs. Language Writer, official verse culture vs. oppositional poetries. It is striking that, unlike Stein, Olson, Zukofsky, Riding, and Pound, it is possible for Williams to be claimed as a central figure by both positions. Poetic principalities guard their borders fiercely, while at the same time claiming right of unimpeded passage from the poetic sphere to the world at large. Two factors lie behind these contradictory attitudes toward boundaries: one is the current state of the poetic field, which is crowded as never before; the other is the powerful momentum of a modernist legacy. For close to a century we have been living and writing under its dispensation in which the news and the new have been synonymous, both standing for the central value organising all battles for position. “Make It New” describes the impulse governing significant writing. How to determine what is significant? “Literature is news that STAYS news.” In other words, the new is news that stays news. Inside this circle the problem of poetry’s social authority is solved: poetic knowledge ceases to be merely specialised; poetry (particular, eccentric) is united with history (universal). Recent developments have made this tight certainty brittle. Poetry, in its most general sense, has become a social fact to a fairly wide extent. It may not play an authoritative role in the culture, its niche in the entertainment industry is minor, as is its presence in the curriculum at all levels; nevertheless, more people in more situations write, hear and study more different kinds of poetry than ever before. Innovative poetry is not totally excluded from this modest success. There are now more innovative publications, venues, paper and electronic archives, listservs and blogs, more reviews of innovative work, more critical articles and books, more slots in syllabi than ever before. To be sure, innovation is still almost always given the cold shoulder when it comes to jobs, awards, grants and standard anthologies; and senses of embattlement are widespread. On the personal level the objectives are clear: a job, health care, supporting good poetry. But on the larger scale what is the social objective of the battle? To supplant the mainstream? Doubtful. What then? To defend the circle where New = News? Poetic innovation and news are now tightly bound up with their negations. Both have become unspecific, formally and factually. There is little way of determining, strictly from internal evidence, whether a poem is innovative. Few results appearing under the right name in the right place could be excluded: chance procedures; improvisation; collaboration; Steinian meditation involving syntactic fracture, repetition or rhythmic play; allusive literary collage; anti-literary pastiche; plain denotation a la Reznikoff; highly worked or slack verbal surfaces—the list could go on. As for news, it is becoming more obvious by the minute that

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it is extraordinarily difficult to separate it from ideology, from propaganda, from weaponry. Both the new and the news have become something like Freud’s primal words except that they don’t point to some originary condition but to an unfathomable terminus improbably called the present. There are other key words in the “Asphodel” passage: every man, you, bed. Here I’ll confine myself to that quarrelsome pair—don’t call them twins—new and news. A Fable When it comes to poetry, the present, the cumbersome obvious present, plays the most uncanny trick on the new: After some period of coalescence, the new emerges into the present. There must have been some fortunate hours or it wouldn’t have emerged at all. But the hours were fortunate and the new does emerge, energetically. Having done so, it fortifies its iden-

comes “The New is Dead, Long Live the New!” a salute to the unchanging reign of Continuity. For those of us temporarily enmeshed in the present, however, things are not so clear. Rather the steady hand of chronology smoothly adding to the shelves, there’s a chronic Battle of the Books. Behind makeshift barricades, partisans hurl small magazines, chapbooks, listservs and blogs like cobblestones against the uncomprehending but irritated enemy; and heap up regressive prize winning volumes, careers, academies and entire centuries to feed the bonfires. Powerful currents of comradeship unite the partisans, but these are subject to disruption with accusations of double dealing not uncommon. It’s not surprising: the enemy has control over almost all institutional recognition, so that without the constant support from other members of the group behind the barricade, an individual career fade rapidly.

Charles Henry Demuth, I Saw the Figure Five in Gold, 1928 tity by focusing its aim, which is to progress directly and unambiguously toward the future. It streamlines its modes to get there more quickly and to separate itself from its compromised, conservative, mildewed rivals. After intense stretches of invention, self-presentation, polemic, self-correction, gathering articulation and further invention all happening more or less simultaneously, a time comes to take stock of how far it has progressed.

Now the present is no nimble magician; there is no sudden revelation from behind a flashing cape. But it happens every time: the new has not reached the future: for all its ferocious velocity it finds itself stuck fast in the past. Nostalgia becomes an occupational hazard at this point … The New and Its Reproductive Practices If time is a one-way, irreversible continuum the past will always resolve into a receding vista of periodising terms: Post-Language, Language Writing, New American Poetry, Objectivism, High Modernism, Romanticism. For some, the Avant-Garde is visible right behind High Modernism; others, though, place it in front; others see it everywhere; still others don’t see it at all. Many reproductions of the vista are sold each year; most omit the Avant-Garde. All versions of the view ironise vanguard aspirations; iconoclasm always be-

The partisans’ place in the synchronous literary field is tight and embattled; but their immense temporal claims are secure. Breathing space in the present may be circumscribed, but the present opens securely onto the future; and the past is under control as well. It can be destroyed as with the Futurists, or shaped by definition and identification. A list of some representative stances: Stendhal enlists past writers into his partisan fight for an emergent Romanticism: “Moliere was romantic in 1670, because the court was full of Orontes and the châteaux in the provinces were full of very discontented Alcestes. Actually, ALL GREAT WRITERS WERE THE ROMANTICS OF THEIR DAY.” Baudelaire sets up a two-state solution, granting autonomy to both the present and eternity: “By ‘modernity’ I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal and the immutable.” Zukofsky’s capsule poetics in “A”-6 unites the past; an observed, multiform present; and the future as he asks for writing that is “objectively perfect / Inextricably the direction of historic and contemporary particulars.” The salient aspect of this formula is the assertion of control: the art work is objectively perfect and coincides exactly with the direction of history. In this, Zukofsky is quite like Eliot: “The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified

by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them.” In asserting his power to enter and to change the past ideal order, Eliot idealises his own power under the name of the new; Zukofsky’s claim of perfection does the same, although the power is put in history’s name. It’s awkward to yoke Eliot with Zukofsky or with any partisans of innovation. The strain is evident in the single word “monuments” Eliot uses to designate literary works. This gesture of proto-institutionalisation anticipates his full conversion to exaggerated respectability and assiduous genuflection to the triumphant theological literariness he invented. He never acknowledged the invention nor the triumph, instead acting out a pious self-extinction in the service of tradition: “we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously. And I do not mean the impressionable period of adolescence, but the period of full maturity.” To reach full maturity is also to enlist in the ranks of the dead. As for mere living, that’s for “impressionable adolescence.” If Eliot’s dead ventriloquising poets are subtracted, the 1988 quasi-manifesto by six Language Writers makes a claim on tradition that is structurally similar to Eliot’s in one way. For us the avant-garde tradition was as crucial and established a fact as Eliot’s tradition. Language Writing’s emergence was not “an unusual narrative. Developments of such collective activity have characterised the history of the avantgarde” such as “the Black Mountain, San Francisco Renaissance, and New York schools of poetry.” In a move that, again, has surprising similarities to Eliot, we assumed a position of normative maturity as we called those who repressed or were ignorant of our tradition parochial: “On analogy with the visual arts, where the ‘avant-garde’ is felt to be a virtual commonplace, the situation of poetry is as if the entire history of radical modernism … had been replaced by a league of suburban landscape painters” (261, 2). Unlike Eliot, we emphasised community: our basic principle was “not the ‘self-sufficiency of language’ or the ‘materiality of the sign’ but the reciprocity of practice implied by a community of writers who read each other’s work” (271). But it was our community, defined solely by the activity of reading and writing, temporarily free from larger social striations and antagonisms. The general pattern, where power over history is wielded to solidify an embattled position in the present literary field, is maintained in Steve Evans’s recent castigation of the journal Fence. The ferocity of the charge of apostasy against the avant-garde is clear from the title, “The Resistible Rise of Fence Enterprises”—change “Fence Enterprises” to “Arturo Ui” and you have Brecht’s allegory of Hitler’s rise. Evans draws a fiery line between the avant-garde and writing that is merely “linguistically innovative,” “indeterminate,” or “experimental” (8). The avant-garde is distinguished less by any formal distinctions than its set toward the social, and toward history in the present. The avant-garde is “collective and contentious” (1); its core values are “solidarity, integrity and generosity.” But without the “imaginative work of connecting [its] expressions back to the social forces, contradictions, and struggles that animate contemporary life,” the avant-garde falls into “formalism” (8). This is the fate of Fence, which supports, in its editor’s words, “a distinguished grey area … writers who challenge their readers”; but at the same time taking care to “exclude no one from that readership in the name of an academic purity, or a pre-ordained set of obscurities.” For Evans this is “facile pluralism,” selectively appropriating “radical poetic techniques, shorn of their contexts and motivating commitments” (1-3). Borrowing Adorno’s description of compromised atonal composers, Evans predicts that such a “despicable artistic credo” will only produce “a respectably routined neo-academicism”; “selfflattery” that mistakes “linguistic for social structures,” it has no future and is merely a “spent poetics … the radical imagination has already left … behind” (6-9). Despite Evans’s eloquent evocation of social context as fundamental to the avant-garde, the coup de grace


that defines it and condemns Fence is temporal. Fence is expelled from history. My section heading promised an account of reproductive practices, but there’s been precious little in evidence. If it occurs at all, reproduction occurs, not in the secure realm of history, but in the embattled social spaces of the present, with the inevitable danger of becoming reproducible, routine doxa, some “respectably routined neo-academicism.” If the new reproduces it’s not new. Existence itself, if continued, problematic: how can extending across the temporal boundary of the present moment be distinguished from extending across spatial, institutional boundaries that separate a Fence magazine from the genuine avant-garde? If the continuous and the contiguous aren’t destroyed, fenced off, ignored, they will dissolve the avant-garde community. Controlling extension is basic to avant-garde self-fashioning: thus Spicer’s insistence that his books not leave the Bay Area, or his comment that poetry means nothing to non-poets; Olson’s “a nation of nothing but poetry.” The motley, ersatz, Delphic territories of the new encompass the hard to read historical demands that are basic to interesting poetry, but a different syntax is needed to direct these demands outward toward the heteronymous present rather than toward a purely autonomous future. Seen in this light, Williams’s poetic messiness is a sign of his continually making contact with the present, where his poems faced dissolution. Mess (not the transgressive waste of Bataille’s general economy), but mess. Sloppiness, compromise, common sense. To be sure, Williams always proclaims a desire for breakthrough, freshness, the word cleaned of all common gunk, but his writing is evidence of a more interesting lack of rigor. To recall his nemesis Eliot’s phrase, it was a kind of poetic “self-extinction”: rather than poetic autonomy, contact with the outside. But the basic question of value obtrudes here. Isn’t there a bad infinity of messy, compromised, commonsense, uninteresting poetry? How is value authenticated in poetry? Expertise, Witness, Authentication Intellectual hoaxes, dramatise the boundaries of authenticity. Unlike plagiarism and forgeries, which are meant to stay concealed, these hoaxes are constructed to be revealed and then reveal incompetence. It takes an expert to construct a hoax; a hoax targets would-be experts (though others may be fooled); it takes an expert to reveal a hoax. More than a simple lie like a bomb hoax, an intellectual hoax is a guerrilla weapon in a battle of possession of knowledge. But in poetry, where knowledge and imagination have been fencing for millennia, knowledge and expertise remain elemental problems. Thus, while there have been poetry hoaxes, at least in some empirical sense, it’s an awkward point that the poetry produced in these hoaxes is as legible as any other poetry. In fact, in the case of “Ern Malley,” where the poetry was meant to be nonsense, the resulting poems now seem more interesting than the serious poetry of the hoaxers. Reading Ern Malley no longer elicits the hoax-cry: “Can you believe someone took this seriously?” Even here, a hoax poem is an unstable form. There have been hoax poets, but there can’t be hoax poems. But if hoax poetry can’t be differentiated from other poetry, doesn’t that imply that all poetry is something of a hoax? Sidney’s defence of poetry, that the poet “nothing affirms, and therefore never lieth,” could easily be cited in support of such a dismissal. Here I want to consider an interesting recent (1997) example: the Yasusada affair, or hoax, depending on how you want to parse it. It is in marked contrast with two closely contemporaneous events: the debates over the Smithsonian’s Enola Gay presentation; and Alan Sokal’s pseudoscientific essay, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” that hoaxed Social Text’s editors. Tapping into widespread anger and angst over perceived postmodern assaults on certainty, the Sokal Hoax reverberated through academia and beyond to the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times; Yasusada reached the front page of the Japanese equivalent, Asahi Shimbun. But the parallel stops there: Sokal’s essay stayed a

hoax while for many critics and poets the tension goes back at least to Mallarmé and Yasusada poems mutated into something at Swinburne, but the emergence of the Language least semi-authentic. In the Smithsonian/Enola movement had promoted it into a basic polemic Gay wrangles the politics of history was clear, structuring the poetic field. After almost three with the strength of different constituencies decades, the binary still has enough inertia to measurable by what could or couldn’t be in- be self-replicating, having less to do with specluded in an exhibition marking the 50th an- cific poems or poets than with creating differniversary of Hiroshima. In contrast, the ques- entiated areas: a critic needn’t have read any tion of the historical validity of a Yasusada Language Writing to decry it as theory-driven, poem dispersed into questions of imaginative mechanistic, anti-poetic. But as a hibakusha sympathy and poetic license. Yasusada had full rights on either side of the A basic polemical joke of Sokal’s “Trans- divide. His poetry was innovative, but it was gressing the Boundaries” was that time and also the quintessential “poetry of witness,” to space are no longer binding categories: “The use Carolyn Forché’s term for work produced key point is that this invariance group [involv- by “significant poets who endured conditions ing the Einstein field equation Gµν = 8πGTµν] of historical and social extremity during the ‘acts transitively’: … any space-time point, if twentieth century.” Poems of witness themit exists at all, can be transformed into any selves bear “the trace of extremity within them, other… . the infinite-dimensional invariance and … are, as such, evidence of what ocgroup erodes the distinction between observer curred.” If Hiroshima wasn’t a historical exand observed; the π of Euclid and the G of treme, what was? Yasusada’s wife and one Newton, formerly thought to be constant and daughter were killed instantly, according to the universal, are now perceived in their ineluctable historicity.” Later we learn that “the key property of quantum mechanics is precisely its nonlocality.” This is the first half of a polemical pedagogy addressing two groups: a coterie, the targets of the hoax; and general readers. At first, the coterie is the advanced group: they may not be able to make much of Gµν = 8πGTµν, but they do know that it’s interesting when long-accepted constants are shown “in their ineluctable historicity.” After the second step—Sokal’s revelation that the science was bogus—the general readers have become the advanced group, with the coterie now the remedial class. Common sense has been confirmed: the general reader has already (“always already,” as the saying goes) passed the test. The incomprehension provoked by “Gµν = 8πGTµν” and by the equally strange “ineluctable historicity” is the correct answer. The lesson for the William Carlos Williams, Self Portrait coterie is less pleasant: transgressing the boundaries of your discipline is translators’ notes; another daughter died from wrong, using words outside your training is radiation four years later; Yasusada himself foolish. It is akin to the bitter precept presented died of cancer in 1972. to the Poky Little Puppy: if you dig under the fence you won’t get back in time for straw- Mad Daughter and Big Bang berry shortcake. Time and space, especially December 25, 1945* social time and social space, are quite real: you belong inside the fence, not outside; dessert Walking in the vegetable patch occurs uniquely in time and space, if you miss late at night, I was startled to find it, you’ve missed it. the severed head of my This is all that the hoax teaches. It does not mad daughter lying on the ground. teach topology or quantum mechanics, only that these are out of the reach of mere citation. Her eyes were upturned, gazing at me, ecstatic-like A sphere of specialised knowledge is defended … against illegitimate experts, with common sense the ultimate court of appeal. Sokal (From a distance it had appeared worked both sides of the expertise boundary: to be a stone, haloed with light, as a physicist, his scientific howlers were real as if cast there by the Big-Bang.) howlers; but getting his non-expert theory-babble published also scored hoax points. Phys- What on earth are you doing, I said, ics was knowledge, requiring an expert to draw you look ridiculous. the line between significance and nonsense; anyone could pretend to write theory. Some boys buried me here, No experts were dethroned nor were any lines she said sullenly. sharply drawn by the ambiguous rhetorical address of the Yasusada affair. To give a quick Her dark hair, comet-like, trailed behind … synopsis: notebooks of a hitherto-unknown and now deceased poet, Araki Yasusada, sur- Squatting, I pulled the faced in 1996, translated into idiomatic Eng- turnip up by the root. lish but containing many indications of Japanese provenance. The work was accompanied *[In the aftermath of the bombing, many survivors by an unusual narrative: Yasusada was a moved into the foothills of the Chugoku mountains hibakusha, a survivor of the atom bomb at surrounding Hiroshima. This was the case with Hiroshima; but his disjunctive poems were Yasusada and his daughter.] unlike those of other survivors. Late in life he had enthusiastically discovered Roland Barthes The translators’ note, its bureaucratic prose and Spicer, displaying an appetite for poetic undergirding the extremity of Hiroshima, is a experiment and theory that placed him on the crucial frame. Forché’s introduction to Against innovative side of the divide between language Forgetting, her anthology of poetry of witness, and self (or between text and experience; or begins with a similar gesture, quoting “the defamiliarisation and communication). Such coroner’s report for corpse #12”: “Cause of

death: shot in the nape. In the back pocket of the trousers a small notebook was found soaked in the fluids of the body and blackened by wet earth. This was cleaned and dried in the sun.” The notebook contained the last poems of the Hungarian poet Miklós Radnóti. His death, unlike Yasusada’s, was real, but the same rhetorical structure governs both accounts. The poetry of witness involves two witnesses: the prose historian, bureaucrat, attesting to the authenticity of the poet-witness. Read without its note, the Yasusada poem could be a dream, or a small narrative meditation inflected toward Surrealism, tinged with astronomical imagery. In any case, the final line break, the/turnip, is pure Williams. Yasusada’s amalgamation of poetic antagonisms was interesting to many, and his poems were accepted by a wider range of magazines than was usually open to one poet. What followed was more interesting: rumours that there was no Yasusada. A consensus soon emerged that the author was Kent Johnson, a contemporary American poet. Wesleyan dropped publication plans; but the results of Yasusada’s non-existence were quite publishable and within a year Roof Books issued Doubled Flowering. This gathered the now-pseudographic writing; some initial reaction (for the editor Arthur Vogelsang, it was “essentially a criminal act”; for John Solt, translator of Japanese poetry, it was “Japanesed crap”); and an overview by Marjorie Perloff, who showed how careful reading might easily have revealed some of the historical impossibilities involved: there were no scuba divers before World War II; in 1925 there was no Hiroshima University for Yasusada to have attended, etc. Ron Silliman’s pre-hoax comments on Yasusada are expert: “There’s an elevation in tone … that reminds me more of Michael Palmer than Spicer, perhaps because the translators are all Hiroshima poets (one of whom seems to spend half of each year in Sebastopol … These works kept me up last night and probably will again.” The contrast with the Sokal Hoax is marked: far from having his authority diminished by having placed his detailed poetic knowledge in enthusiastic service of the supposedly Japanese poems, Silliman furnishes a post-hoax blurb for Doubled Flowering in which he agrees with Perloff: “The ‘scandal’ of these poems lies not in the problematics of authorship, identity, persona, race or history… . This book makes the argument for anti-essentialism. That it has done it so well infuriates folks with a proprietary interest in categories. Thank you, Araki Yasusada!” In one sense there are no boundaries to transgress here: at least the boundaries of time, place and identity are fully porous. But within the literary field the boundary separating innovative from non-innovative was monitored carefully. Transgressing the boundaries of identity, narration and emotional scripting was basic to staying on the right side of the innovative boundary. What has happened to the notion of hoax? The issues of expertise and knowledge, so sharply bounded in the Sokal Hoax, are fuzzy here. Knowledge of Japanese poetry, not to mention the experiences of a hibakusha, don’t seem crucial. Demonstrations of poetic mastery can only be judged in poetic context. Gestures an untrained reader might find outrageously incompetent often occur in the works of the most sophisticated poets. Three examples: The goop / is like mulberry soup *** No, such was not the fate of Young Stephen Dowling Bots; Though sad hearts round him thickened, ‘Twas not from sickness’ shots. *** The Great Wall of China is really a thrill It cleaves through the air like a silver pill It was built by the hand of man for good or ill Showing what he can do when he decides not to kill

The fact of authorship, of innovative provenance, is crucial in literary judgment. To one who knows Jack Spicer’s work, “goop” sounds

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its despairing, jokey chord. Read for itself, Emmaline Grangerford’s ode to Stephen Dowling Bots is terrible; but Twain’s creation of that ode is pretty great. Ashbery’s readers know his many wonderful poems and his wide formal repertoire. By authenticating Johnson’s authorship, Perloff and Silliman grant him a place within the anti-mainstream arena. Solt’s “Japanesed crap” is no longer relevant when “Yasusada” becomes a poetic device associated with the tradition (going back at least to Whistler) of American innovative artists not letting lack of knowledge derail their enthusiastic engagement with Asia. Pound’s Cathay and Noh translations are notable positive results. Another piece, which I’ll now say was written by Johnson not Yasusada, runs as follows:

fact, most notably the atomic bomb. But it does this by reducing it to a rumour of cataclysm, which is then made disappear with clumsy, poeticised slight of hand as Williams splits it into “heat” and “light”:

[undated]* two daikons

Decades earlier, the author of Spring and All had warned against such stale metaphors: “Crude symbolism is to associate emotions with natural phenomena such as anger with lightning, flowers with love” [188]. One of the myriad descriptions of imagination in Spring is apropos:

three rice cakes one [blotted by crease. eds.] seaweed packet

in an eternity the heat will not overtake the light. That’s sure. That gelds the bomb, permitting that the mind contain it. This is that interval, that sweetest interval, when love will blossom, come early, come late and give itself to the lover. Only the imagination is real! [II, 334]

4 crane eggs empress oil

chrysanthemum root

best rice

Bear yourself with a serious air through the labyrinth of the market. Feign to ignore the [blotted by crease, eds.] spirit medium of plum-coloured lips

Imagination is not to avoid reality, nor is it description nor an evocation of objects or situations, it is to say that poetry does not tamper with the world but moves it—It affirms reality most powerfully and therefore, since reality needs no personal support but exists free from human action, as proven by science in the indestructibility of matter and of force, it creates a new object, play, a dance which is not a mirror up to nature, but— [I. 234-5]

American cologne *[Despite the curious interjection, this appears to be a shopping list. It was found in one of the notebooks, folded into an origami bird.]

Read inside the innovative frame, the translators’ fictional authentication that this page is witness to Hiroshima now a normative poetic element in a context where fragmented poetic utterance and shopping lists are both poetry. Such poetic intention is very clear at the end of the book, as Doubled Flowering ends with a slightly modified pastiche of the ending of Spicer’s After Lorca (where a flesh and blood writer addresses a fiction). Such literariness makes it easier to hear in this excerpt an echo of Williams’s interview with Mike Wallace in Book 5 of Paterson: Q. … here’s part of a poem you yourself have written: … “2 partridges/ 2 mallard ducks/ a Dungeness crab/ 24 hours out/ of the Pacific/ and 2 live-frozen/ trout/ from Denmark …” Now, that sounds just like a fashionable grocery list! A. It is a fashionable grocery list. Q. Well—is it poetry? Poetic and Social Candour It is poetry. Why? Because it’s in a poem, and the interviews, letters and historical documents in Paterson are also poetry, as is the asteriskringed SODA transfixing “The Attic Which is Desire.” No list of poetic innovation can be at all fashionable if it doesn’t include countless passages in The Cantos, just about any line in a Moore poem, Ginsberg’s citations of newspapers and radio in “Wichita Vortex Sutra.” As Williams says to Mike Wallace, “Poetry can be made out of anything.” He cites the musical verve of speech, which lifts it out of the quotidian: “if you treat [it] rhythmically, ignoring the practical sense it forms a jagged pattern. It is, to my mind, poetry.” Modernist frames easily incorporate social noise and historical marks. But when poetry moves outside its frame the result is impropriety if not scandal, e.g., Pound’s broadcasts and Bollingen upsets to the recent flaps over Laura Bush’s tea and Baraka’s “Who Blew Up America.” A basic reaction of supporters or critics is to put a poetic frame back around the whole mess, which, to simplify, is basically what happened with Pound. It has been a constant strategy for over half a century: the former president of SDS, Bill Ayres, uses it to defend Baraka: “Spreading myths and printing falsehoods may violate the standards of a decent newspaper, but they are the very stuff of poetry, and that’s why no one with an ounce of sense goes to Homer or … Bob Dylan for the facts.” But “Asphodel” does attempt to incorporate

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In “Asphodel” the unscriptable force of the bomb flattens this to a brittle assertion: “Only the imagination is real!” I realise that in criticising “Asphodel” for its handling of the bomb, I’m sliding from poetic to historical news, and thus I could be said to frame the issue in Zhdanovian terms, where superstructural poem must be judged by how well it matches prescribed real world. Such show trials are not of the slightest use. But an opposite conclusion where the poem is detached from referential demands employs a similar Zhdanovian binary, separating the spheres instead of forcing them together. Nor will splitting the difference between these two positions find some semi-referential middle ground where the structures of news and poetry can be durably reconciled: they’re incommensurate. The news, both external and poetic, in Williams’s own poems is often contradictory, garbled, or imaginary—here, for instance, “Asphodel’s” “sweetest interval” merely names aesthetic autonomy. But the social and poetic candour of his writing as a whole remains something to learn from. The word candour comes from Allen Ginsberg, who used it increasingly in his last years as a capsule description of his poetics, ethics, politics—three aspects of what he intended as a unified activity. For him, candour revealed the unfallen body; enacted the healthy, spontaneous mind; and, by extension, it would eventually reveal and enact world liberation, political, spiritual, sexual. He wasn’t naive about the difficulties involved, but he was optimistic. Williams’s candour is more contradictory, revealing his limited and often problematic social personhood (doctor; husband; philanderer; father; atheist; avant-garde—more or less—poet, privately enthusiastic, publicly obscure and frustrated); his subject position (male; American; white but non-WASP; heterosexual; middle class), his place in history (Model-T’s; telephones; typewriters; world wars); and in space (hometown; Nowheresville, New Jersey, but with New York City nearby). A real person is writing: “real” and “person” in all their theoretical clumsiness and shame. But this does not make Williams himself the privileged core of the poetry: knowing the life is not a prerequisite for reading the poems, nor is what the poems reveal the person of Williams. Williams’s social candour means simply that his writing never hides any of his social coordinates. These coordinates are not static; they intersect ceaselessly with the positions of many others. Williams’s hourly social mobility as a doctor was clearly a benefit here; and the po-

ems present a much more focused and interactive social existence than is the case with Whitman’s enthusiastic spectating: “I behold the picturesque giant and love him”—society and nature were equally picturesque for Whitman. Compare Williams: Doc, listen—fiftyish, a grimy hand pushing back the cap: In gold— Volunteers of America I got a woman outside I want to marry, will you give her a blood test? (Paterson, 103)

But accuracy of registration is something of an intermittent by-product of Williams’s poetic candour. Again, a contrast with Ginsberg will be useful. Ginsberg’s candour meant fidelity to the body at the moment of composition: “first thought, best thought.” Since, as another of his slogans has it, “mind is shapely,” such discipline would ensure that the poem would be shapely as well. Williams’s compositional methods are not completely different, to be sure, since improvisation marks much of his work; but his attention is given primarily to the poem, which is neither an unaltered record of process nor does it pre-exist as any kind of template or received form. Poetic candour means that Williams is constantly working on, witnessing and adjusting the form of the poem as he writes it. This is the case whether the time of writing is a single period of two minutes between patients, or a series of stops and starts over years as with Paterson. The results are valuable beyond conventional standards of articulation and coherence or innovative standards of unpredictable language. They are a bit out of focus from either perspective, which is why Williams is so widely acknowledged but not all that deeply respected. His work, even in Spring and All, was never purely new. The sheen of newness was always scuffed by the poems’ contact with social space. A small poem from the early forties can illustrate: Details for Paterson I just saw two boys. One of them gets paid for distributing circulars and he throws it down the sewer. I said, Are you a Boy Scout? He said, no. The other one was. I have implicit faith in the Boy Scouts If you talk about it long enough you’ll finally write it— If you get by the stage when nothing can make you write— If you don’t die first I keep those bests that love has given me Nothing of them escapes— I have proved it proven once more in your eyes Go marry! your son will have blue eyes and still there’ll be no answer you have not found a cure No more have I for that enormous wedged flower, my mind miraculously upon the dead stick of night [II, 24]

This seems to have been cobbled together from Williams manuscript Detail and Parody for the Poem Paterson (1939), where versions of the first two stanzas comprise a poem, and the third and fifth stanzas stand as two separate poems. These pieces, less prepossessing when separated, combine into an odd whole. “I just saw two boys.” It seems unexceptional to think that the “I” represents the poet. Not a very prepossessing opening. “One of them gets paid for distributing circulars”: a scrap of realism; but adding “and he throws it down the sewer,” with the singular “it” not matching the plural “circulars” reframes this as a quoted voice, not Williams’s. But it won’t help to treat this rhythmically, ignoring the practical sense so that it becomes poetry. This is leaden lan-

guage which the described action mimes. Printed matter, circulars, are waste. They might be the newsprint Pound so loathes in the Hell Cantos; they might be small press books: print on paper—dreck. The speaker continues with the tiny story: “I said, Are you a Boy Scout? / He said, no. / The other one was.” If you consider that information, you’re welcome to it. For me the salient feature is the glacial clumsiness, capped off with the bizarreness of a received idea decayed into unfamiliarity. “I have implicit faith in / the Boy Scouts.” “If you talk about it / long enough / you’ll finally write it— / If you get by the stage / when nothing / can make you write— / If you don’t die first.” This is something else. This voice has a querulous urgency, which I take as the poet berating himself. But the boundaries of person are oddly fluid. It wasn’t the poet who was talking, but the Boy Scout admirer. But then again it wasn’t the Boy Scout admirer who was working up the courage to finally write. I can’t keep the speakers of these first two parts completely separate; but the poet’s melodramatic consideration of death at the end of the stanza feels like some overblown but not utterly false reaction to the linguistic gloom of the opening stanza. If these are your social materials, do you really want to write? But then again, what better than to make a poem, active and unpredictable, of such stuff? “I keep those bests that love / has given me / Nothing of them escapes—” Out in Paterson spoken and printed words go down the sewer. In the poet’s mind, the gifts of love are held onto tightly, too tightly to permit any retroactive description of them. The next lines continue the passionate tautness, but what are they saying? “I have proved it”—proved what? That none of love’s bests have escaped you? Who did you have to prove this to? The voice insists further, “proven once more in your eyes.” The vocabulary and tone are consistent, but the rhetorical, emotional, situational dynamics are as mysterious as anything in Ashbery, at least to me. “Proven once more,” as if another emotional test has been passed, but what test? What was the first one? “Your eyes” belong to the beloved, presumably; though they could be the reader’s. In either case, the relation is odd: the lover keeps the ecstasy of love locked tightly away inside, and yet asks for confirmation from the beloved. I don’t sense any attempt here to construct a mystery, or a Rube Goldberg machine. What is so incommensurate and irresolvable here has to do with candid verbal registration and a kind of free floating flickering negative capability in some sense more like Jameson’s cognitive mapping than Keats’s beautiful empathy. Here speech, internal didactic rant, stumbling approaches to more illuminated states of mind are all granted equal access to the page. There is also compositional force making the best of these materials. As the stanzas follow one another, each makes something different and a little more active out of what has come before. In the last stanza, who says “Go marry!” to whom? Is the poet speaking to himself? “Go marry! your son will have / blue eyes and still / there’ll be no answer / you have not found a cure.” This is one of the ways that Williams insists of the value of what emerges in successive stanzas moment by moment. The poem is made of “historic and contemporary particulars,” but they’re not “objectively perfect,” nor are they moving inextricably in the single proper historical direction. This is the new in the midst of reproduction, which cures nothing. The blue-eyed son is not a poem; nor is the poem a child. The last lines start with an odd simulacrum of conversation, although the you and the I seem to refer to the same person: “No more have I for that enormous / wedged flower, my mind / miraculously upon / the dead stick of night.” The American idiom? I suppose, but it’s stirred around so much that most of this can’t be called idiomatic. Williams the materialist, no ideas but in things? Hardly. The motion of the poem is various, unpredictable, and the more closely it’s read, the more surprising it is. 


Scissors To Widow’s Weeds (Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece 2003) Ian Ayres “I see life as the playground of our minds.” —Yoko Ono

“CROWD CUTS YOKO ONO’S CLOTHING OFF!” and “YOKO ONO DOES STRIPTEASE FOR PEACE!” and “FRENCH FIGHT SHY OF YOKO’S STRIP!” sensationalised the headlines. None of the media even hinted at the deeper meaning of Yoko Ono— in the name of world peace (and perhaps a new love of life)—having allowed the crowd to cut off her widow’s weeds. Even more symbolic was the fact that Yoko Ono performed this finalé of her legendary Cut Piece in Paris, the fashion capital of the world. Instead of a dress being paraded for potential buyers, a dress was being cut to shreds! This struck me as more than a demonstration for peace, world peace, but a statement against capitalism; a cry for the return to nature that would save our planet, our species. What impresses me most, however, is the courage Yoko displayed—considering the murder of John Lennon with Yoko literally at his side, and the years of death threats she continues to receive—in daring to repeat a performance that would not only expose her throat to a potential assassin but put into the assassin’s hand a deadly weapon: a pair of well-sharpened scissors. The jagged steel of those scissors she carried glistened against the blackness of her long, layered, silk-chiffon skirt and tight, black, long-sleeved top when she gingerly stepped, as if walking on thin ice, onto the stage of Paris’ intimate Ranelagh Theatre. Applause temporarily relieved the foreboding I felt during that Monday evening of September 15, 2003. Here was Yoko Ono: A slender, cool, 70-year-young avant-garde icon; one of the art world’s leaders of conceptual and performance art; in the flesh. My angst over a possible, bloody murder metamorphosed into fascination. With whispered thanks to my absent friend Phillip Ward—co-editor of the world poetry anthology Van Gogh’s Ear that I edit here in Paris (www.frenchcx.com)—for having told me about this top secret event in time to get on the guest list, I applauded long and loud enough for the both of us. Applause filled the theatre as the memory of Phillip’s 5th of September telephone call from New York City rang in my ears. The second he was sure I was me, he’d said, “Are you sitting down?” Something in his sonorous voice told me the news was too thrilling to send in an email. Earlier in the week, Phillip had asked Yoko Ono’s studio and production assistant, Robert Young, if he’d ask Yoko about contributing some work to our upcoming edition of Van Gogh’s Ear. It wasn���t long before Robert contacted Phillip to echo Yoko’s answer, her famous “Yes.” Not only would she contribute several poems—but a few of her Franklin Summer drawings, too! This news hit me like a shot of some euphoric drug. Little did we suspect, when we began our small non-profit enterprise, that we’d be entrusted with the works of such great talents as Yoko Ono, Norman Mailer and Thich Nhat Hanh. My enthusiasm led to Phillip informing me more about Yoko Ono’s art and music, and to her mind-altering “Fluxus.” I knew that John Lennon once said Yoko Ono was the world’s “most famous unknown artist. Everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does.” Then Phillip mentioned Yoko being one of the founding members of Fluxus ... Fluxus began as a group of writers, musicians and artists organised by George Maciunas, whose 1963 Fluxus manifesto incites artists to “purge the world of bourgeois sickness, intellectual, professional and commercialised culture … dead art, imitation, artificial art, abstract art, illusionistic art … to promote a revolutionary flood and tide in art, to promote living art, anti-art … non-art reality to be grasped by all peoples, not only critics, dilettantes and professionals.” So they created an art form that was anti-elitist, anti-commercial. Utilising readymade materials and experimenting with various art forms, they created something that was part Dada, part

Bauhaus and part Zen. Over the last 40 years, Fluxus artists produced interesting installations and limited edition publications, teasing the mind in cartoon fashion, yet in a minimalist and philosophical manner, while encouraging thought and dissection. In her association with Fluxus, Yoko Ono staged performances in Japan, England, and the United States. She hosted art and music Happenings in her SoHo loft. While at the same time making films, composing music, and creating paintings and books. Even today, Yoko continues to execute Fluxus concepts and philosophies behind her art form. “Her inventive sometime provocative gamelike concepts and instructions encourage us to step over the boundaries of art’s constraints to construct art inside ourselves,” as Phillip puts it. “She brings to the mind a challenging concept: Trust. This is demonstrated clearly in her chess piece, titled Play it by Trust. All the pieces, including the checked grid, are painted

ing.” Arresting my visuals was a large olive tree Ono had transformed into Wish Tree. Countless wishes of peace and love hung on small white tags with thick string from every inch of every branch, fresh as fallen snow. Yes, I thought, Yoko’s fans are Love fans, my kind of fans, the best fans to be. The leaflet said that “Wish Tree gathers together the dreams and wishes of each visitor.” Wishing they’d said more, I turned over the page and discovered an introduction for the exhibit by the artist herself. “Women’s Room,” wrote Yoko Ono, “presents the life of a woman through four different media … In Wish Tree, a pathway is offered to the “garden” of our vision. It is in unity, we find our way to make our dream come true … A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” Thus inspired I went over to a podium next to the olive tree where blank white tags and a pen had been placed. I pondered briefly

Ian Ayers & Yoko Ono, Cut Piece, 15 September 2003. Photograph by Eric Elléna

white. According to Yoko, white is the most conceptual colour. Being a metaphor for light and transcendence, it doesn’t interfere with your thoughts. “Yoko’s works are to be performed by a viewer or an audience member. Many to be performed only in the participant’s mind. These concepts also compliment Marcel Duchamp’s belief that art is only partly created by the artist and is completed by the spectator. Incidentally, Dada artist and philosopher Duchamp was himself an active Fluxus contributor and participant in many Fluxus ‘Happenings.’” Phillip suggested we go to see her Women’s Room exhibit, on view at Paris’ Musée d’Art Moderne. He mentioned how, with patience and imagination, “Yoko’s art is as rewarding as it is demanding,” then added an idea that now fascinates me: “Transforming art into thought.” On the Métro to Musée d’Art Moderne I got to thinking, “Women’s Room. Men’s Room. Public restroom. Hmm …” However, instead of hearing toilets flushing when I entered Women’s Room, I heard a looped recording of Yoko’s occasional soft coughing punctuated by the gentle clicking of what appear to be claves. From one of the exhibit’s leaflets I learned that the recording was titled Cough Piece. Phillip later informed me that Cough Piece was a 32-1/2-minute sound work originally recorded in Japan in 1963. The exhibit’s leaflet only offered that “Poetic irony is evident in the sound work, Cough Piece, composed out of the repetitive rhythm of cough-

on what to wish for, then I wrote: To kiss Yoko. With patience, I managed to find a place on one of the tag-crowded branches to hang my wish. Little did I suspect my wish would soon come true. While securing the wish onto the olive tree, I noticed the sound of snipping scissors echoing from beyond a small, wall-partition. Someone getting a haircut? Paragraph four of Ono’s introduction to the exhibit soon made it clear that whatever it was wasn’t live. “As for the films,” she’d written, “each film is repeated on two, three or four walls, depending on the set up. Each projection is being made 10 seconds later from the other—like a musical ring, in the same way as I perceive my life, going over the experience as I experience it.” The flipside of the leaflet clarified: “Women’s Room makes reference to political engagement and personal memory. The four films presented here: Freedom, Fly, Rape; and Cut Piece (a film of Yoko Ono’s performance Cut Piece 1964) evoke the social role of women and their emancipation.” Behind the wall-partition was a large, doorless room with six screens—three on each side of the room—and a wall-petition in the middle permitting you to wander round. The 10-second differences in time of the film on the different screens scattered my sense of time. My mind seemed to fragment into past, present, and future all at once. I was in a vacuum, a whirl of “snip, snip, snip”! Surrounded in the room’s blackness, by the black-and-white film, my eyes darted from screen to screen of the

young Yoko Ono kneeling onstage in a black dress with her white slip being more and more exposed as people continued cutting and taking away pieces of the dress. Like vultures, I thought, all taking a piece of her. The audience’s aggressive violation of Ono’s body, shredding her clothes, stripping her naked, absolutely disturbed me. But throughout most of the performance she sat completely still, training an icy stare on the audience. Then one young man in the film distracts Ono from reversing the audience’s voyeurism when he symbolically rapes her with the scissors. The guy smirked vengeance and rather violently snipped the exposed slip from the area of her breasts. Yoko made a soft frightened sound, raised her hand to stop the victimisation then, as if realising it would go against the Zen-like purpose of Cut Piece, lowered her hand in sad resignation. I felt fear for Yoko. The guy contentedly laughed to himself and continued to cut away until her white bra was completely exposed. When he stepped behind her and snipped both bra straps, Ono modestly folded her arms across her breasts. In showing the best moments of this performance of Cut Piece in a continuous, echoing loop, the film seemed to be a “cut piece” in itself. Truly remarkable, and unnerving. After witnessing the various cuttings, along with the scissors’ rape, several times, I pulled myself away to interact with more of Yoko’s exhibit. I explored Blue Room, which opened my eyes to the fact that language, by itself on a gallery wall, is a justifiable form of art. With 14 handwritten sentences on the walls, ceiling, and floor—the meaning of which is in total contradiction to the emptiness—the viewer is “instructed” as to what to construct inside their mind. For instance, to remain in the room until it turns blue. The room is painted white. Next I experienced Vertical Memory, which, on the leaflet, Yoko explained “was created putting together photographs of my father, my husband, and my son. I selected photographs of them facing the same direction, overlapped them and morphed it. Every photo represents the man who was looking over me in a precise moment when I went through an important situation of my life.” Her words then drew my eyes toward the next art piece, Sky TV. “The Sky TV projects the sky of my childhood. The sky I saw was a little girl which was there for me, always, without change; while I kept walking through many years, many countries, many lives. The experience is parallel to that of Vertical Memory: one as the memory of earth, and the other, as that of the sky.” That’s when I noticed a TV placed on the wooden floor. When I saw a black-and-white sky, I checked the flipside of the exhibit’s leaflet, where they’d briefly noted, “Sky TV shows an image of the sky taken by a camera placed on a roof.” Figuring colour video hadn’t been possible in 1966 when Sky TV was first made, I went over, laid down on my back, and gazed up at the screen of clear grey sky … wisps of white cloud gently moving overhead. It took me a moment to realise the sky I was watching inside was the actual sky outside! On the Métro back to my apartment I found myself surrounded by foreigners speaking in unfamiliar tongues, which irritated me. So, in an effort to block out their existence, I opened my newly acquired Spare Room—Yoko Ono’s artist’s book specially made for her Paris exhibit of Women’s Room. The passage I happened to open to made me think coincidence happens far too often to be a coincidence. “Next time you meet a ‘foreigner,’” came Yoko’s words, “remember it’s only like a window with a little different shape to it and the person who’s sitting inside is you.” These words of hers totally transformed my annoyance into compassion for these strangers on the train. And I was forced to realise that being an American living in France made me also a foreigner. As soon as I got home I surfed the web for information on Cut Piece. In a 1992 interview, Yoko Ono tells Ina Blom that “Cut Piece is about freeing yourself from yourself. Like all artists, I have the tendency to give what I want to give. And I am defying that, in that piece. And it is a frightening piece to perform. Very tense. And because it was such an incredibly important piece for me, I took care of the de-

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tails. In those days clothes were very important to me because I had so few. But when I performed Cut Piece I always made sure to wear my best suit. It was the total offering, you know, so that you wanted to wear your best suit for it. I lost my best suit every time I performed the piece.” I surfed on to learn about Yoko Ono’s most innovative early works, which include her Instructions for Paintings. In these pieces she uses language—the words themselves—instead of a traditional art object, to provoke interactivity with viewers. The viewer must perform the instructions in order for the work to exist. Her instructions have the form of brief poems, uniquely her own. They are the thought they convey. The question is how the instructions are received and what the reader of them does to make them true: The instructions must be followed for the work really to exist. Experiencing some of Yoko’s instruction paintings, which were shared on the web, inspired me to create an instruction painting of my own: Point Piece Cut here  (———). Put your hand under (or behind). Stick your finger through. Point at yourself. Point at the sky (or ceiling). Imagine no gravity.

While riding the keyboard like a surfer on waves, catching lots of great sites, I wiped out when the phone rang … and the quick download I’d tried for blocked. To my disbelief it was Phillip Ward. “You’re not going to believe this,” he said. “Yoko’s going to perform Cut Piece in Paris on the 15th.” Phillip gave me the information needed to get on the guest list to participate in this hushhush event. He said nothing would be announced until the last minute. Thanks to Phillip, chances were strong I would, after all, be one of those lucky people to witness and to participate in Yoko’s reprise of Cut Piece; which she hadn’t performed in nearly forty years, and in Paris. The wish tag I had hung on her Wish Tree dangled before my memory: To kiss Yoko. A week later, there I was, at the Ranelagh Theatre, applauding Yoko as she walked onto the wooden stage, over to a microphone placed on a simple, wooden stool, and gave a sweet smile. She picked up the microphone and, sitting down, spoke to us in perfect French. “Imagine love,” Yoko said. “Imagine the sea.” And I did. I saw us all as raindrops in a sea of raindrops. “Imagine peace. Peace for you and me and all the world. Never forget love. I love you.” She paused, as if looking into the very essence of each of us. Finally, prepared to trust her life in our hands, she held out the scissors. “Allonsy!” she said (“Let’s go!”). Setting the microphone to the left of where she sat, she placed the scissors in front of her—much like the action of a determined noble Samurai preparing for the deadly deed. It alarmed me when several men jumped up from their seats and rushed over to the stage steps. Yoko was completely vulnerable in the middle of that bare stage. Fortunately a gentleman, standing near the steps, stopped them. Stationed directly across, at the steps leading down from the stage, was Yoko’s studio assistant exhibitions manager and curator, Jon Hendricks, who has worked with Yoko Ono for many years and is the author of the acclaimed book Fluxus Codex. When Mr. Hendricks nodded an “all systems go,” the gentleman whose job it was to play gatekeeper allowed the first cutter to mount the steps to the stage. This first cutter, a middle-aged man, wasted no time in going for a piece of Yoko’s top, cutting a large fragment of material away from just above her breasts. The cutting of Yoko’s clothes must have made the man nervous for, as soon as he had the piece in his hands, he dropped the scissors. A number of us 200 audience members gasped as the scissors hit Yoko’s knee, then bounced off to hit her foot. Among the cutters were Yoko’s 27-year-old son Sean Lennon and his girlfriend Bijou

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Phillips. When Sean went up, he said something to his mother that made her smile, nod in agreement, and take off her black suede shoes. This seemed wise, since each shoe was secured to the foot by a single strap and most likely the only shoes she had in which to leave the theatre. She wouldn’t want anyone cutting them! Sean then, in a loving spirit of peace, cut a hole into the sleeve of his mother’s black top. The routine rhythm of cutters “snip-snipsnipping” broke cadence when Yoko was obliged to stop a young woman who picked up one of Yoko’s shoes and began hacking away at its leather strap. By the time Yoko realised what the woman was doing, and said something to her, it was too late. The strap was hanging in two. Watching the specific actions of various audience members, as I stood in line inching toward the stage, my mind wandered to what that guy had done to Yoko with the scissors in 1964. That action needed to be softened and made positive, I thought. But, presently, one woman hacked away rather brutally with the scissors, and another almost violently ripped her piece—as did a man who followed. It seemed they weren’t aware of the reasons for this performance. Why were they here demonstrating hostile actions in a demonstration for peace? I wondered. It’s about peace, not destruction. They seemed oblivious to Ono and Lennon’s 1960s and 1970s offbeat peace protests, including the Bed-In For Peace against the Vietnam War. They didn’t seem to know about Yoko’s billboard in London’s Piccadilly Circus, which read: “Imagine all the people living life in peace,” a line from Lennon’s famous song Imagine. Maybe they didn’t even care that Yoko took out full-page advertisements in papers around the world on the eve of the war in Iraq earlier this year, saying: “Imagine Peace … Spring 2003.” Yet Yoko remained loving (though understandably nervous) and dignified as some of these strangers, like cannibals, hacked away at her clothes. She merely sat on stage while audience members, one at a time, approached and picked up the pair of scissors lying next to her feet to cut off a piece of her black clothing. This was done fairly silently; the only thing to be heard was the occasional cough and the footsteps advancing and retreating. Not long before it was my turn to go on, however, I became concerned about a man who approached her with doubled fists. He grabbed the scissors from the floor and hacked brutally at her skirt, tearing off a long enough piece to strangle her with. I doubt I’m the only one who became alarmed. He dropped the scissors, letting them loudly hit the stage, and stretched the piece tight in both hands. He stood over her, menacingly, pulling the piece tight then, lowering it toward her neck, suddenly turned away and walked off the stage. There was a sigh of relief in the crowd. He could’ve done it, you know. Yoko’s bodyguards, which no one saw, but I’m sure were nearby, weren’t close enough to stop him— unless they had guns, of course. Maybe that crossed his mind. Eric Elléna, my publisher at French Connection Press, eased the tension when he came on next and cut a piece from her skirt. At first I felt impatient with his taking longer than most to get a snippet of material … until he stood and displayed his cutting to the audience. He’d cut his piece in the shape of a heart, which lightened the heavy doom in the air and brought a laugh. From then on, the rest of the cutting off of Yoko’s dress went without a stitch. At long last my turn came to be stopped by the “gatekeeper.” The two young women before me apparently had been in cahoots. The first went up and cut a piece of her own jacket—making a big show of this for the audience—then placed the piece on Yoko’s lap. Then her friend went on and held up a red Band-Aid for all to see. She made a show of picking up her friend’s piece of jacket from Yoko’s tattered lap, and band-aided the piece to the exposed area of Yoko’s heart (Yoko’s sexy black bra by this time fully exposed). I wasn’t sure how I felt about the dark piece of material stuck with the red Band-Aid to Yoko’s chest. It did look kind of avant-garde, the BandAid being red and all. But Jon Hendricks hurried onstage and yanked the Band-Aid off

Yoko to loud applause. The “gatekeeper” wouldn’t let me pass until Mr. Hendricks was safely down the opposite steps, where he’d remain to make sure no one fell. When I was finally allowed to go up onstage, I couldn’t help smiling. There was Yoko Ono, sitting demurely on the wooden stool, her black lace bra exposed and her black silk-chiffon skirt a little gnawed at its ruffled edges. I felt such a tremendous love for peace radiating from her being. As I slowly approached her, I didn’t feel awe or goose bumps or anything but love. Love exudes from her energy. And I admired her for giving of herself so freely to the world … and for peace. In true Lennon-Ono fashion, in this world full of anger and violence, she spoke through her actions, saying, “Let’s give peace a chance through our active and visible demonstrations of love.” I kissed her on her cheek, then knelt to cut a large enough piece to share with Phillip, as I’d promised. I chose part of a ruffle, which held another layer of ruffle beneath, thus making it difficult and prolonging the cutting. More than anything I wondered at the coincidence of it all. My wish on her Wish Tree had come true. Back in my seat I was pleased to see other people go up and kiss Yoko. One gentleman kissed her hand. And then a tender moment came when a young man and young woman went up together. She cut a piece, then presented it to him. (The “instruction” was to cut a piece and send it to a loved one.) He then cut it in half. They each kept one half, then kissed before leaving the stage. I felt they clearly understood the meaning of Cut Piece. Yoko’s message is that although we each possess the scissors that make killing possible, we have a choice. We can choose love. We can put down the scissors. She says embrace each other. Don’t cut each other to pieces Of course the mood quickly changed as Yoko looked straight ahead and barely moved while a man dressed in a suit hacked a major piece off her skirt to reveal a large part of her thigh. A few minutes later one brazen young man sliced through the waistband, shearing off her skirt completely, taking nothing as he left. She sat there in her matching black lace panties and brassiere, with the remains of her skirt draped over the stool beneath her. There weren’t many of the 200 audiences members who, by this time, hadn’t already had their chance to cut. The last ones of the line contented themselves with cutting pieces from what was left of her black silk skirt hanging on the stool. Well, someone was bound to cut her bra strap. This time, instead of a man practically raping her with the scissors, it was a woman who was nice about it. She only snipped one strap, as if what would Cut Piece be without a cut bra strap? For Yoko’s panties and bra to be cut off her, in the spirit of earlier Cut Piece performances, it would’ve been necessary for someone who’d already been up, to go up onstage again. They would’ve made a fool of themselves. Especially with Yoko’s son and his girlfriend sitting in the front row. And so it was in perfect taste and timing that Paul Jenkins (of Yoko’s Studio One) gallantly brought her a pink kimono. Yoko took her bows to a standing ovation, then retreated into the wings. I couldn’t help thinking how Yoko Ono is the only celebrity of such magnitude who would ever have the courage to allow the public to come up and cut pieces of their clothes off. Not even for the sake of world peace would they do it. And as Eric Elléna and I left the theatre, I rubbed the black silk-chiffon of my piece of Yoko’s widow’s weeds and imagined all the peace contained in each piece of fabric cut that evening from her body. Once more in front of the theatre, we looked up at her words on the huge posters, in French and English, displayed to inspire the world. On the posters Yoko Ono’s words read: “Following the political changes through the year after 9/11, I felt terribly vulnerable—like the most delicate wind could bring me tears. Cut Piece is my hope for world peace.” By allowing strangers to approach her with scissors, Yoko said she hoped to show that this is “a time where we need to trust each other.” 


Nicole Tomlinson Body Simulations a single mote the suspension the fact of refraction and and there the sun for a moment slants the room this closed a restriction a tightness in the throat 5:15pm To the sun: I am a surface receptivity the field expands dilates an opening and 2) contracting a gravitational susceptibility a blunt circulation I am searching for signs of life despite the blood in my mouth I can see the air moves can open it up spit it out y = y∅ + v∅.t – 1/2 .g.t2 all things yield To force: I understand already final velocity the brute intractability of physics that describing a reddish arc descending a calculable speed across the beam a certain madness is implied in each particle the reflected glory of the sun My passivity within being These events are more At the frontier When coming To the incarnate The true philosophy = apprehend The chiasm The visibility of my body To touch Dream. Are undeceived Were a good substitute for bread A few pieces Tell it from the white ice of the river channel. Such are the sources A single gentle rain enough. There may be nothing lofty Blasts of ages after that misty weather soon walked away This keeper remarked The greatest virtuosity Of course, A similar notion of transcendence Its three dimensions of ontology But a harmful pleasure The order-word does not only Refer It was far down Ultimately inside and outside cease to be discernible a mock contract a diastolic force passes an older flower In the mammalian heart Strictly arboreal Having stopped Acquires a bilateral symmetry and (b) The most noticeable point about this cleavage Cavity. Its roof a feature of all the first enters the blood transference from host to host there are no birds here I’ll explain when there is no horizon there is no singing when I have no pen I shout inside my head so that the memory will stay this is important in transit the view has an unexpected curvature that coming with speed only the failure to see is surprising at an angle of 57° everything is a blur I had an assignation with destiny whispering in my ear I could not conceive it did not penetrate I had an electron revelation a question of quantity repetition and as an example I can’t pass a bar without focus this is important in transit the repetition has an unexpected curvature that coming with longing as though only the disappearance has weight though only the disappearance has weight I’ll explain when I have no pen there is no horizon when the birds sing I shout inside my head so that the memory will stay here only the failure to conceive is surprising at an angle of 75° everything is accelerated I had an assignation with disappearance whispering in my ear a question I could not penetrate a macro revelation of particularity proximity and as an example I can’t pass a bar without focus this is important in transit the curvature has an unexpected rectitude at an angle of 90° everything looks the same I’ll explain when there is no shouting there is no memory when the birds stay the horizon sings in my head Yes I remember the urgency To abstract and reify I want to focus on works the patience The monstrance This is an excellent question I want now— Within the framing apparatus— perspective Something cuts by the mirror stage There are innumerable planes Speaking of the enemy

inscribes fatigue it is habit What makes death possible And what is states implicitly And that close reading In what sense, then, does it change? The question of knowing To take possession of them? We see the things themselves Mind upon the world his situation, his body other also is pure vision, how “pure” another paradox is the practice of this measure They are the armature Whence the impossibility qua sensible

Drew Milne Leviathans and Stalking Horses Sometimes a man knows a place determinate, within the compasse whereof he is to seek; and then his thoughts run over all the parts thereof, in the same manner, as one would sweep a room, to find a jewell; or as a Spaniel ranges the field, till he find a sent; or as a man should run over the Alphabet, to start a rime. —Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan When I say that the underlying idea of the allegory of words is that human expression, the human figure, to be understood, must be read, surely there can be no doubt that that is merely a metaphor? —Stanley Cavell, The Claim of Reason

cosmologists are able to simulate the effects of gravity upon the motion of tens of thousands of masses something I am not capable of processing every time I cut my hair I consign each one to the air the birds can pick them up again they fall at the same speed to grow again with the birds I love

Carried away to execution he had pleaded his cause but rather cannot shift the ground of discussion either put the pupil out of my sight as of course in the way the child desperately wishes and desperately return or rather an assembly of spirits worse than exposure to it was the other one that blew my cover but the fairies in what nation so ever then a perpetual state of expansion necessitates otherwise used then in the common the eradication of all irregularities O but the matter of what arrives at and departs uniqueness of the universe is in effect a tau- from a present human interest tology which poses a fundamental difficulty merely looking for recruits for only the actual science rhymes if there are laws our lumber company and clearly these which govern the behaviour of the universe as to the ear hearing to the palate taste a whole but which do not have any applica- or efficient all in his little finger tion to the behaviour of objects within it then that were strangers in Jerusalem the ground is a furnace cover intrinsically not hearing the uniqueness of the bright galaxies are more easily seen than faint octave might be sufficient evidence ones and in the idea that language is learned when I was young my limbs were longer the that will not fail in time to break them bones themselves embraced as for you where when the golden calf was made the hope is instead finally crushed you apparition of sun with our riches could be in but that is even more angering Mexico before anyone realises my own pain is deeper or closer you’re annoyed a criterion of none of its power being dipped in one’s own blood what we feel in a caress a person and in the dentist’s chair wringing his hands spoke about to shouts the colour of your car the context Larry Sawyer to commit most gross idolatry Among Vents or one in which I have a theory of Canned night much like canned laughter seems all the disgusting complexity of which men are bound to obey false on this night with its stars seems moans of delirious terror the basis garish and awkward be we softly move of its employment bodies of others feet above the crossing harbour on green adding his own which is the office triangles these sails innocently expanding why I should obey the government moving left now the lens captures, each time certain of his readers had shrewdly suspected from when the law was it is a different hour grass maps that they both have but one voice checks cashed, galaxies hang their that can so much as colourably be oracular pronouncements among the vents beyond its signal that writing has of summer these moments sturm und drang dark sides go into these externals small cartoons of memory’s ships to have power to will to pronounce the lake of fire that is to say orotund capsized left moaning, birds tongue is but an external thing serape the air and telephones squawk then that object isn’t a tomato dissecting the silence on the back of put in mind of the night wherein celestial canoes ancient Egyptian the surface of ordinary means gods rest suddenly in museums of day brake in your rebellion then free of European quarrels in striking as if we will join them my breast that is there said to fill after we finish applying the lacquer subtle fluid and invisible body to our lives still trying. take our sensuous imprisonment as one station doth such miracle isolation not sudden nor light plebian but beautiful civil war resting on it from their labour Larry Sawyer arise from an imperfect institution Life Gets Weirder unliveable or anyway not sanely though in this corner of the world sneeze of consciousness which is the sense of the legislator release us of our lawns rather meets the idea of the sociable “she is like the sun” he this anatomical fact is something says, “mysterious as an egg, a soul there are no artificial souls but that was in another, ancient in this case no common stock but time, when love was our solvent.” that what he denies is that the slave what does this poetry mean? is ‘other’ ie other to his one effusion says the Dwarf, behind oriental screen of much blood the victory of the “beautiful hours, or spidery cracks place of his residence be doodling through the huge glass such to asterisk the days on which against the eyes, bringing into the odds are against candidness focus ordinary surprise …” which is for all the world boiling sneeze of consciousness the sea with tritons and other nymphs release us of our lawns ballasted with sand and other trash let the quicksand blow and opinion of the need of small helps ampersands snow.

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The Liquid Undertow of Purpose Kate Fagan 1. I want a poetry that is exquisitely attentive to detail, and to its own sincere materialism; a poetry grounded in radical self-consciousness as a method for continuously testing its own assumptions, contexts, possibilities and politics. This consciousness—perhaps it could be called a mobile vigilance—writes against “the lyric I,” but it is lyrical. It playfully applies pressure to a “speaking self,” to the extent that poetical “selves” have been fantasised and normalised as stable cells, devoid of circumstantial shakiness. It tries to be aware of its intentions. Rather than a poetry of confession, I want a poetic of admission; a poetic that admits, in an epistemological sense, the succulent and generative potential of a language-ing art; a poetic that admits the mess of everyday practice, and the curious noise of history. I desire a lyric of heightened spatial awareness, where placement—of words, things, events, skins, perceptions, ideas—is always under scrutiny. and this coruscation close to knowledge what else can it offer sky’s break over distance puzzling clouds version after version of between and blue a record for the living, notice pinned to detail, observation and dream cognisant of light’s change (return to a new physics)

2. What kinds of anxieties are at work in poetry—and especially here, now, within Australian poetry—that lead us to question whether language has become the pre-eminent and “only real subject” of poetry? How has our thinking about poetry evolved? Given that some (certainly not all) contemporary poetry appears to step wide of a Self, and to challenge cohesion as a quality of writerly and readerly subjectivity that is inherent rather than performative, what has motivated such a shift? What is the “speaking self” from which poetry has taken such a turn, and why does its presence remain so powerfully evocative? Here “I” am, producing questions from questions. Writing about writing would be poetry itself … what is taking place? (Emmanuel Levinas Otherwise than Being) When Martin first posted me a series of questions for this session, and when I began to think about responses, the session’s working title was “Can a poet speak without a self?” I noticed last week that the programme title had shifted to “How might a poet speak without a self?” The change may appear subtle; but the questions have very different implications. The query “can a poet speak without a self” demands two superficial answers: yes and no. Yes, if a particular kind of self is imagined as one among many rhetorical tropes or gestures available to writers; a sometime cultural constant, proprietary with regard to what it observes and experiences, naturalised, authoritative, and casual about reflexivity. No, if a self is read literally, rather than laterally, as a living breathing scribbling (and apparently, vocalising) human subject. Such a limit on reading, I think, would be almost purposeless and would have to occupy a no-place or utopia of existence, free from context. The query “how might a poet speak without a self?” occupies and opens entirely different horizons. The word terrain begins to unlock the perimeters of reason, returns a dream and watchfulness, everything resolves into a method of composure held in a geometry borrowed from trees. As if aquamarine, torn over by foam, collecting the wind, could become a way of thinking. (Geophilosophy)

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I want to imagine further, for a moment, a poetic self that is proprietary; that sees things happening, or observes landscapes, and chooses to create a flat, self-reflective poetical rule in response—a comfortable, reassuring surface that is evenly measured. This kind of self is careless about ways in which description can create property. To me, it is the marketable face of a commodity called Lyrical Poetry (capital-L-capital-P). Although it might appear to be a maverick or charismatic self, it risks quiet assimilation into four-cornered capital flow, and comes complete with a glossy photo attached: Poet for Hire—Have Laptop, Will Travel.

terpreting the effects. Within this process, we might encounter our poetical ethics, or our poethics (to use writer Joan Retallack’s term). We might move beyond an oppositional politics of poetry, frequentlyrehearsed, that places “clear” or direct selfexpression on one side of a divide and abstraction—or a particular sort of linguistic self-consciousness—on the other. This boundary needs critique. Or rather, we need to recognise that it has always been a moveable fabrication, an ordering strategy; one that prevents us from exploring the generative reach of language, its shocks of difference. What else can poetry offer?

3. There has never been a better time for placing “the body” in poetry, for re-placing and critiquing embodiment within writing practices. A poem without a centralised ego (if there is such a poem)—or a poem that does not depend on a resolutely unified “persona” or “voice” for its structural and psycholinguistic template—is not a poem without a body. It may be a poem that recognises a “naturalised” and (even disembodied) body that is stuck in an endless cycle of culturally-sanctioned repeats, and so chooses to be elsewhere, and less predictable. It might resist the systematic debasement that occurs when difference is forced to defer to easily-digestible homogeneity. This is to say nothing new to poetry, or to thinking. When I speak of a poetics of radical self-consciousness, I am glancing over one shoulder to writers of a Russian formalist tradition, who prized techniques such as “defamiliarisation” (ostranenie) and “laying

superfluity present elation near a tilting bridge a crowd moving over my bodies’ skew compositions even, openly graffiti bawls at each extremity lips’ density uncertain, words accident, sitar limns a high window (return to a new physics)

4. “Language” can never be the only subject of poetry, even as language is always the preeminent field of a poem. Poetry, after all, is a trade of language and its links to meaning, ideation, and matter. Even if we dispute the transparency of relationships between words and an “actual” or signified world—as we should—we do not lose our senses, or our ways of making sense. We Lyn Hejinian and Emilie Clarke, from The Lake, 2001 let them proliferate. bare the device” in order that a poem might Gertrude Stein, in her elegant essay Poetry become tangible—and even publicly and Grammar, wrote: “It is extraordinary how objectified, or embodied —to excess. Over the it is impossible that a vocabulary does not make other shoulder, I feel the persuasive (and al- sense.” Readers of any description are skilled most incessantly familiar) clarities and decoders, immersed from natality in language enthusiasms of early “Language school” work as a primary communicative medium. Scales written in America in the mid-to-late seven- of readerly competence, interest and intention ties, and the worldly sincerity of Objectivist are highly differentiated and site-specific; writers such as George Oppen and Louis which is to say, people read differently. To asZukofsky. How many times must poetry “make sume, however, that innovative or disjunctive it new,” or “begin again and again”? To do so or syntactically skewed poems are meaningis both a matter of historical dialogue and of less to most readers is to seriously underestipoetical necessity, not to mention quotidian mate and dismiss people’s capacities—and inevitability. desires—to make sense. To me the process of De-emphasising “the self” within an art of making sense is sensual, and often maximally written language is not an emptying or non- embodied. sensical process, although it may appear elliptical (a term that has recently gained currency We search for different forms and promise differin discussions of innovative American poet- ent habitats. Enumerating predictions, all of them ics), or even threatening. When I write “de- useless. The smell of your hair remaining on my emphasising,” I really mean holding poetry up hands. Two raw scars, scraps of torn paper on eito close scrutiny: testing its loci of power, its ther side of a caressed spine, intellect’s light intent. colonising and exhausted replications of par- We continue to occupy this world, it appears in erticular ways of thinking, and its always-con- ratic scrawls, patient and actual. Where nothing retemporary potential as a zone for philosophi- fers to nothing. cal imagination and excitation, and for happi- (Calendar) ness (to acknowledge the title of this afternoon’s panel). I mean admitting—and own- What, then, are the real anxieties underlying ing up to—the circumstances of a poem’s mak- the question of a poem that “must always be ing; laying bare the organising body, and in- aware of itself as language?” Is this perhaps a

question of cultural value and permission, and the use-value of seemingly “incomprehensible” poems? What happens when readers and writers—who are readers first—are calmly provoked into facing a moment of intense discomfort in perception or understanding? When poetry appears to challenge cultural dominants, by engaging in philosophical and formal selfconsciousness, or stylistic abandonment? Is a poem that is “aware of itself as language” even capable of causing such a splash any more? Perhaps we should be looking elsewhere as well to find our mobile vigilance, while remaining sharp about history and the political implications of our choices. We might remember that language and its materialities are just one vector on this contextual plane; albeit an extremely rich and real one, in which power, subjectivity, future hope and meaning collide with undeniable grace. a serious shade an efficacious use of language at its most optimistic and devastating that might alter the local song (return to a new physics)

5. What, if anything, differentiates an authoritative, specialised “lyrical I” from the writer that I am proposing here, a person for whom “mobile vigilance” might be a way of navigating and casting the spells of poetic language? Even if we re-imagine the “self” as one context-specific point in an organisational grid of available choices and materials, a self subjectto-change that seeks to respond and inquire, rather than to assert, aren’t we simply re-inventing narcissism as the primary desire behind poetry? Is a poetics of admission really so different from a poetics of confession? One important answer to these questions begins with intention. Some poetry is unconcerned about key aspects of its ways of making meaning, its relationship to different audiences, its own forms of production and distribution; or, to use language that is no longer fashionable, it disregards the political economies of the art. Some poetry denies the fact that there are real linkages operating between language and, for example, colonisation and oppression. To me, poetry can discover, interrogate and undermine these links. It can also make new ones. In one poem from return to a new physics, I call this “detailing the space of conflict.” 6. I will conclude by returning to the question: “How might a poet speak without a self?” By way of suggestion, I will read part of a poem called The Waste of Tongues, in which a “self” is one figure under scrutiny. In a sense, the poem is a lyric-against-the-lyrical-I. Much of its movement comes from tensile relations that operate among three perceptual devices: an observant I (without pronoun for the most part), which performs a role as a shifting organisational locus; a counterpoised you, disruptive of an I’s centrality; and fragments of news or information, that become part of “social” life via disjunctive processes of everyday consciousness. I also want to remind people of earlier definitions of lyric, as they evolved from the Greek word lyrikos, or lyre. The lyric was a song of emotional expression; and the term “emotion” concerned disturbance or excitation of the mind [Fr. émouvoir, excite]. We might re-imagine lyric as a form of poetry which excites minds, and removes our emotions from perceptual habituation, while intensifying our relation to language. I prefer not subscribe to a poetics of sentiment, since nostalgia can be a primary curb on development, and is a principle tool of specular advertising copy; but I do write poetry that feels. The Waste of Tongues (from part 2) A single ibis, curving threskiornis, threads the clotted path from here to Mascot, missing poles and planes. Several degrees fall from a burning sky, sweep roadward under anvil cloudheads. Does it surprise you, this matter of voices? Or rather, the space imagined for a cultural collision, argent bird and ordered tree, elapsing as thought only.


Ecologies of type and temper sprawl to meet the corners. Look out, star walking.

International Regionalism and The State of Poetry in Australia John Kinsella

A clock for longitude, central to the talk of empires, glassy face of contest between artisans and royal star-gazers. This fetish for cartographies, a legal key to desecration, to the grinding trade. You wonder at the transit of Venus, James Cook’s superficial brief. Isabell Coe claims Cockatoo Island, carries healing smoke from fence to fence, remembering a captain’s terra scrawl to the plush seats at the Court Supreme. During the inauguration party, nobody seems to mind that the new boss happily watches twenty pairs of all-American legs, transfixed or Bedazzled, while plotting the appointment of a pro-protection team. He takes cues from his father, who took cues from an actor, and this is welcomed. An included middle fills expansively with ghosts. Outgoing bodies wave to a new centre left, rugged-up well to meet intoxicating January ice. Sixty miles clear of Gloucester, a person stands beside a glass case, the promise of stuffed charms, left hand holding coins and right hand poised to anchor pink ducks for love. POP. 330, chipped paint and retrospection hamburgers, satellites to a year-old Supermall. Two flash lads wear suits to the movies, one folds the other into a cuff of his jacket, tenderly. I am the avant-garde, and so is my wife. “Your heart is indebted to the life’s blood of my heart,” they read, alphabets of serious romance. Electrolytic winds carry a memory of memory. Define the way fruit-fly make precise ampersands of scribble on these ripening skins, the way spiders sing to the weather’s approach. A lion bends its knee to the step, shaking by a paperfall of fireworks, red cut-ups for a new year. Pocketful of genres, selected. A writer cannot inherit an instance. To dwell in the arrangement of things, an open line, equating mode with spirit. Give me an anchor in all this space, embed us. A full orange moon is cornered by adjustable horizons, temporal as anything. News that absorbs news, a language of care, we want to touch the drifting matter of its mattering, sweet reason in this-topia, a context and a mineral fact.

[This paper was presented at the Burning Lines poetry festival in Balmain as part of a panel shared with Alison Croggon and Philip Salom, in response to the following questions: “Can a poet speak without a self? Is language now to be the only real subject of verse? If the poem must always be aware of itself as language, does that mean that emotion can only be observed, and never communicated? Is there still a place for the body in verse? for rhythm? for musicality? Is there a future for the lyric ‘I’”?]



Kate Fagan

In the way that the state periodically examines its health, or pretends to, so, too, does the literary community. Poetry Incorporated, always aware of limited sales figures, is more prone than other genres to take stock and search out the reasons for its failure to ascend to the lofty heights that tradition and myth dictate. In its identity angst, its desperation to turn fragmentation into an illusory wholeness, Australia engenders a literary insecurity that has poets and all those with an interest in the stuff of poetry fighting to present an authoritative voice to the world. The so-called Australian poetry wars of the seventies and eighties largely stemmed from this insecurity and the new tensions have much to do with it. Poetry is a powerful political and social medium even the least polemical verse has such implications. When a nation builds identity, or recognises the conflicts that prevent the triumph of monoculture, poetry will be at the forefront of resistance or propaganda. The State of Poetry in Australia is often debated, with frustration and disillusionment usually being lumped on the critics’ shoulders: the much decried lack of a critical culture in Australia poetry; and the small pond where honest reviewing can’t happen, with reviewers either being mates of those they review, or sworn enemies who inflict public humiliation on their victims. What is most fascinating is how the cultural commissars and yes, they exist, if only in their own minds try to mediate the exposure of Australian poetry overseas. This usually comes in the form of preventing or trying to prevent certain poetry finding a voice in mainstream publishing, or speaking strongly against it. The World Wide Web has to some extent scuttled such endeavours, with control of international exposure beyond the reach of any one individual or organisation. However, the grumbles still continue and will do so increasingly as numerous Australian poets achieve overseas publication in printed book form. If there is a new cultural cringe (presuming there ever was one in the first place) it locates itself in part around the hypersensitivity about how we are viewed, by outsiders, as a nation through our literature. The prime venues for poets are readings, invited or open mike, publication in little magazines and book publication. Over the past few years, massive changes have taken place in journal and book publication. The withdrawal from poetry publishing by the big houses has led to a rise in the small publisher and the proliferation of the private, collective, or sponsored publication. All of these would have been called vanity publishing in the eighties, but the demystification of publishing by computers and the fetishism of book production the creative plus of being interactive have removed the taint. Even socalled respectable publishers have been getting authors to subsidise their own publications where government funding is lacking. The leading poetry publishers around the country have avoided this, but it’s not as rare as people might think. And some well-known names have been getting their work out there like this. One wonders if among their numbers are people who object to the anyone-canpublish attitude to the Web. Is buying their way into a well-known imprint a sign that the publisher has taste control? Subscription publishing, becoming popular once again in avantgarde circles in Britain, is also in the atmosphere here. Pre-selling books, then printing. Then there are the poets who start their own lists, publishing their own work and a few associates’, or poets they admire, to obscure the fact that it’s private publishing. But even if such a negative reading of the situation were true, this is only a plus because it helps develop an eclectic, diverse and fragmentary national poetry. Out of adversity comes poetry with meaning. In a country living under the artistic devastation and oppression of the Howard Government, it’s not surprising to see an emergence of non-state literatures. A criticism levelled at the small publishing ventures of one of Australia’s bestknown poets during the seventies and eighties

was that they were merely an endeavour in selfpublishing, though dozens of other voices had appeared under his various imprints. One such criticism, levelled by another poet editing a poetry list for a big multinational, is deeply ironic given the senior position held in the same company by a member of that poet’s family. The poetry wars were as much about control of publishing as about politics. However, the Web has taken the wind out of a few sails. John Tranter’s Internet journal Jacket is reaching audiences far greater than those of any other Australian, or even non-Australian literary journals. And it’s free. A couple of years ago, writing the introduction to Landbridge, an anthology of contemporary Australian poetry compiled outside the orthodox anthologist’s action plan, I mentioned a concept I’ve been developing over the past decade: international regionalism. Though in-

creasingly discussed, its encouragement of international lines of communication, while respecting regional integrity, has been conflated with a new internationalism. These are not the same thing. Internationalism is a view of the world, or a global vectoring, mediated through a specific cultural space. Australian internationalism works in very different ways from that in, say, Britain or China. In Australia it is easy to be self-congratulatory about the liberating role “we” can play in the international free trade of language, ideas and poetry. But some poetry should not be available to us because the whole process can become appallingly appropriative. The new internationalism becomes the new colonialism, rather than a new understanding and sharing. Jealousy, pettiness and fear have been, and will always be, part of any literary scene. But new internationalism, the overexposure and hyper-exposure of the Web and the apparent triumph of the avant-garde have raised the hackles of many traditional poets. The language of culture mediated through the Net, through information technology generally, is text. Poetry becomes text. It can be generated by various computer programs and it can be plagiarised, appropriated and altered at will. Genres have been bent and displaced. Dorothy Porter’s The Monkey’s Mask can become a film; poems by other well-known Australians can become interactive wonderlands. There’s also the fear of a loss of national identity, of the sanctity of place. In some cases this might be a protectionism regarding regional

independence, but more often than not it’s a defence of the ego territory, of the spatiality of the kind of history by which the poet wants to be remembered and esteemed. It astonishes me to see how many nature-imagist poets in Australia keep churning out the same stuff without taking into account that nature is vanishing before their eyes. They see selectively and the odd critical or ironic poem doesn’t hide the fact that they’d prefer poetry to go on just the same, being sensitive to the nuances and variations of “life”. Here’s a psychology test: if you’ve been scouring this article looking for names then you’re an Australian poet; if you’ve been reading for any other purpose, you’re not. Australian poetry, as with many or most national poetries, is about names. People create politics out of the individual and they need to label. If we talk about the poetry wars of the seventies and eighties we set the name Les Murray against that of John Tranter; then there’s that wonderful media beatup, the Generation of ‘68, against which an amorphous amalgamation of “others” ie, conservatives, traditionalism, nonfriends of the ‘68ers are opposed. Interestingly, some fragile egos among the opposition to the ‘68ers have done great things to help create them as a concept. Poet-critics such as Alan Wearne feed off equally belligerent figures such as Jamie Grant (as demonstrated in recent issues of the literary journal Southerly) to make fire to excuse the smoke. There’s a sense of triumphalism and self-congratulation, and belief in the certainty of their observations that is embarrassing for participant and nonparticipant alike. People are careful outside the safe space and apparent sanctity of the review (in Australia, often personality-driven, but so are they, too, in The New York Review of Books and other august international publications). People are often careful not to mention names, either to avoid being sued, or to heighten dramatic tension. Little magazines were another place, which is changing, for the poet to create a presence, to peddle his or her wares, or, one would like to think, enter into dialogue with the reader in the context of a particular creative, cultural, political environment. But things are dramatically changing here in Australia. The leading literary journals are finding it difficult to maintain audiences and, as a consequence of this, or because of the changing nature of media technology or an inability to adapt to readers’ expectations, have closed, changed format, or are struggling. Small journals come and go and others are emerging on the Web. Thylazine is a stunning recent addition to the ranks of Australian Internet poetry journals. Focusing on animals and landscape, and edited by Coral Hull, it features writers as different in tone and politics as Alan Gould and Lisa Bellear. One thing is certain the canonical stamp that a literary journal was able to give a poet or a writer is passing. Students of poetry, and those rediscovering or investigating a specific form of poetry, might have relied on work available through archives

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of these publications. But libraries are changing and electronic and archival information is more flexible. Journals are not the sole authorities. This means they have to create culture as much as reflect upon it; have to be seen as places of impetus as much as consolidation. The traditional literary journal is a mixture of both, but the pendulum is swinging more in the direction of continuous action. The revolution is ongoing and all about us, concurrent with the myopia that informs our daily acceptance of environmental destruction, cultural vandalism, racism, misogyny and the other elements that inform our governmentmoulded, corporate-driven private lives. But among all this text is conflict, which leads to division and opposition. One such community, loosely affiliated, has taken shape in Sydney. Much of the tension in Australian poetry where one might legitimately observe the genesis of a new poetry war, with all the aggression and nothingness the expression carries emanates from Sydney, the internationalist powerhouse. It is not surprising that the poetry editors of two Melbourne-based literary journals, Meanjin and Overland, are based in Sydney. This community is the home of linguistic innovators. It interacts readily with communities in Melbourne and overseas and, to a lesser extent, other parts of Australia. It might “communicate” with indigenous Australians. It might function best in that liminal space between genders, between orthodoxies, in the space where language informs itself, scrutinises its implications. It’s political: it believes every action brings a reaction. It is nonlinear and spreads like hair roots below the surface. In this group or community, we might place Peter Minter and Michael Brennan, the editors of the recent anthology Calyx: 30 Contemporary Poets, and some of its contributors. We might also place a publisher such as Paper Bark Press, with its commissioning editor, Robert Adamson, an identity in the old poetry wars, on the edge of this group. Jacket is favoured by members of this group for its internationalism, its poly-nature and its editor John Tranter, icon of Australian late modernist poetry and co-anthologiser with Philip Mead of The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry, canonisers of Ern Malley, a key figure for the Generation of ‘68. The group and its associates have a strong knowledge of literary theory. Their agenda might be associated with a new Left. They are primarily urban, although they are interested in the environment and environmental issues. They tend not to be rural, which is a different cultural space, though they’ll associate with the radical pastoralists. Their poems are about both the private and public spheres and often they are subtextual letters to like-minded practitioners. A complex sense of community develops out of this. Members of the Sydney group are internationalist, but uncomfortable about the authority of place. They are adrift. Out of Sydney, but fragmenting and returning, challenging heterodoxies and chasing language as it hybridises in a failing biosphere. Oppositions in contemporary Australian poetry, as elsewhere, are often expressed through the culture of anthologies. “We” make our declarations, our manifestos, and the “other side” strikes back with one of theirs. Reading venues work in a similar way. The differences between the authorised university reading, the anti-establishment student reading, the officially funded reading and the openmike pub reading make for relevant parallels. The Tranter-Mead anthology is played against the Geoffrey Lehmann-Robert Gray anthology Australian Poetry in the Twentieth Century. Indeed, the taste in the latter is more texture of language and image, visual and traditional, but in the end it still comes down to the way we read. Calyx is a new challenge, a collection of voices that have emerged in the nineties, many of whom are linguistically innovative (though poets from very different discourses are included, for example, the liminal lacunae of Kate Fagan versus the linear form and function of Peter Boyle). I’ve no doubt there will be a reply in an effort to redress the balance and control the image of Australian poetry. But it is unlikely that will come from a youth-

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ful zone. Objections to such poetics tend to come from the pre-nineties poets (quite a few of the ‘68ers, despite what they might think, are closer to their old foes than they are to the innovations of the Louis Armands and Kate Lilleys of the poetry world). A social rhetoric, anchored in a “poetry of meaning” dictated by standard English rhythms only slightly obscured by a Macquarie Australian English, doesn’t challenge the fundamental problem in any poetic discourse the inability of language to engage with the failings of society. An awareness of the implications of how we write cannot be ignored and this is what the Calyx editors wish to emphasise. Even younger poets favouring traditional poetic structures come from a world au fait with a language beyond the page. It’s the age of text. One group of young Queenslanders objected to the “irrelevancy of poetry” and laid claim to the representative nature of rap as opposed to, say, Shakespeare. They haven’t been reading much contemporary innovative poetry. It may be dif-

ficult to “understand” at times and the sounds may be non-metrical, but it comes out of an awareness of the polymorphous nature of culture. A poet whom I’ve found extremely open to such changes and interested in considering their implications is Geoff Page. In many ways a social poet coming out of the old school, one might consider him the enemy if one were of the Calyx school. But Page is an eager reader and open to discourse. He has an aesthetic and a poetics, but will at least listen. His recent verse novel, The Scarring, is a linear narrative and his poems have always been clear in their intention, but he sits comfortably alongside the Minters and Tranters of Australian poetry. Page is also someone deeply caught up in questions of Australian identity, as is, say, Les Murray, but then so are the Melbourne poets Gig Ryan and Pi O. The wonderful young indigenous poet Samuel Wagan Watson (not in Calyx) is also about identity and place. These all contribute to what is seen as “Australia” both in Australia and, increasingly, outside. I’d argue it’s not desirable to peddle something identifiably Australian, but if we must then it should have many faces. For the past year or two, I’ve been the overseas editor for the British poetry publisher Arc. In the next five years, we’ve got more than 10 Australian poets appearing on the list. It’s a diverse range of voices, including Andrew Taylor, Sarah Day, Tranter, Alison Croggon, Anthony Lawrence and Ouyang Yu. This

would have been unthinkable five years ago. Then, the British poetry market could cope with only a few voices and Australia was adequately represented in the minds of publishers and critics. Apart from Arc, Bloodaxe is publishing Kevin Hart, Robert Adamson, Tracy Ryan and a four-in-one volume. Landbridge is available in Britain (through Arc), as is the Tranter-Mead (through Bloodaxe). Paper Bark Press is distributing in Britain and the United States. Through Stand and special issues of other journals, Australians have made more regular appearances in Britain. They are doing the same with American journals and publishing lists. And there’s the Net, of course. The ebook is the future and the range of publishers is so diverse that the experimentalists and traditionalists are mixing it, within seconds of each other, downloaded as pdf. A well-known Perth identity said to me that Sydney was like an island within Australia, that the Olympic Games were Sydney’s Games and that it was a place of confluences and cultures entire in itself. In some ways, Sydney’s poetry world operates like this, with lines to the rest of the world and some to other big cities on the eastern seaboard, but few elsewhere in Australia. The group in Sydney is aware of this and entreaties are being made on the surface and beneath, though there is little textual explication of the vastness of the landmass. Various dialogic projects investigate Australian landscape and spatiality, such as that of Louis Armand, who is based in Prague and communicates via email with the group. In some ways, Armand is the international conduit for much of the dialogue that’s developing. He is an internationalist, a specialist in Joycean hypertext, an innovator, a collaborator with other poets and a visual artist. He’s genre-busting and on an “open” passport. But the real engagements with Australia-wide poetry and poetry-scapes come via a writer such as Coral Hull, whose moral investigations of people’s relationships with animals and landscapes see her travelling from Sydney to Darwin and from Melbourne to Alice Springs. Regional poetries are working through and against ideas of Australian-ness in Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. The Hobart nexus of poets such as Day, Andrew Sant, Stephen Edgar, Margaret Scott and, to some extent, Anthony Lawrence’s almost spiritual dialogue with the overwhelming presence and Australian iconography of Gwen Harwood internationalised via publication on the old Oxford list in Britain with other luminaries such as Peter Porter and Chris Wallace-Crabbe form an interesting regionalism, in a broader Australian and international context. The possibility of an authoritative canon of Australian poetry is diminishing with its growing diversity and confidence. The golden days of the Keating arts policies are past, but poets have had to innovate in publishing. More needs to be put into the arts, but a hybrid of the new independence and the old support system would mean a dynamic flourishing of a nonstate poetry that encompasses all interested groups and voices in Australia. I have said many times that the most interesting poetry coming from Australia is by its indigenous authors. Lionel Fogarty has been

configuring and reinventing a language of reverse colonisation, of rebellion and reterritorialism for years, but writers such as Wagan Watson and Bellear are entering new, yet traditionally aware, social contracts with language. They use the power of poetry to make and challenge identity, to oust false prophets, to work against the fetishism that has become Oz poetry. Australian poets don’t need an industry, they need to recognise that difference is desirable. I often wonder what poets read when they get home at night; there is so much animosity between poets here that I doubt they even glance at the work of other Australian writers. A wellknown Australian poet once said to me that while he admired many of the skills and qualities of “the other side’s” work, he could not do so openly. The reason: limited government grants, limited publishing opportunities and a small number of “places in history”. This consciousness of position, of role play, is the sign of a colonial mentality. Cringe we might, but it’s still there. Yet getting out into the world might not be enough. There are billions of people and the population is growing daily, but there will never be enough readers. After all, who reads poetry? The answer is: plenty of people. After sex, poetry is right up there on the Internet hit list. Millions read poetry. They mightn’t read your poetry, but they read poetry. If poets themselves started to take an interest in the words and not the identities, they, too, might discover a rich world of which they are unaware. So, the State of Poetry in Australia? Paranoid, internalised, fragmented, fraught with tensions. Also diverse, adaptable, inventive, pluralistic and outward looking. They seem like different portraits, but they are of the same mosaic, the same canvas with its fragmentations and mixed media overlays. Ironically, this is a healthy way for it to be. The state can’t get and hasn’t got hold of it. There should be more funding for various projects, but the lack of it hasn’t stopped the innovators. Thankfully, an Australian poet laureateship, along with its endorsement of nationalism and all its repugnance, hasn’t emerged to drive Australian poetry to an Ozymandias-like state. Overseas perceptions are changing rather than one or two well-known and emblematic Australian poets, numerous voices are becoming available to the international reader. Contributing to this are the flourishing world of Internet discussion groups dedicated to poetry, the emergence of the Web critic apart from the usual “official” media of newspapers and literary journals, and the flexibility of book and journal publishing. Most of Australia’s major literary journals are moving between homepages and print. Overland, traditional in some ways, innovative in others, has been at the forefront with a print journal, a Web page and overland extra, a discrete Web publication. The journal Imago, a good friend to poets in the same way as Overland, has just launched a deft new homepage. It’s the face of the future. The irony of a State of Poetry should be considered: it’s not about economics or a national identity, but about all identities and all issues coming out of human interactions; it’s the concentrated investigation of our relationships with ourselves, our communities, the cultures and histories we work with; and, above all else, it’s about our negotiations with place. 

John Kinsella


“The Worldwide Literati Mobilisation Network: Personation, Poetry Hoaxes and the Internet” (from page 1)

Gertrude Stein said of her hometown, there is no there there. We continue to assume a correspondence between the body and its instrumental functions and between the proper name and its representations. Once again, it is the confidence game that simultaneously reveals the strength and the frailty of represented identity. For this reason it is surprising to note that no extensive history of the literary con game in the twentieth century has been attempted. If a modernist “poetics of impersonality,” as Andrew Ross has argued, “aims to reduce the traditional subjectivist privilege of expressionism to a limited and perfunctory act of passive creativity, in which any record of enunciation is kept to a minimum,” while inadvertently revealing the persistence of the subject as the index linking language (the system) with discourse (the moment of its invocation), it is precisely in the transactions of the literary con game that we see most clearly this contradiction and its complex implications. Brian McHale has identified a useful set of categories that can help us to track the development of the literary hoax as a modern phenomenon. McHale divides literary hoaxes into three types. First we have the “genuine hoax,” a hoax whose perpetrator has no intention of its ever being exposed. Significantly, few modern hoaxes belong to this category; we must look backward to such cases as James Macpherson’s invention of the Ossian poet in the 18th century to locate a poetic example. The next type is the “trap hoax,” wherein the hoaxer’s intent is to expose and deflate the pretensions of the target. The Alan Sokal Social Text affair is the most notorious contemporary case, a hoax designed to expose the supposed inscrutability, even to its practitioners, of poststructuralist theory. Literary modernism has had its share of trap hoaxes, too, and their history is a long if littleknown one. During the high modernist period, a group of three poets, Witter Bynner being the most prominent among them, invented a group called the Specrists that was designed to compete for recognition among the Imagists, Vorticists, and other high-profile experimental collectives. Their ruse was successful enough to put William Carlos Williams in the unenviable position of expressing a preference for the two male pseudo-poets in the group over the female, whose verse he pronounced too feminine. (This poet was in fact a man.) Though Witter Bynner managed to build something of a career on the notoriety of the Spectrist hoax, the verse the group produced is best described as a series of cheap shots of varying levels of sophistication. Here is “Philosopher to Artist,” by Marjorie Allen Seiffert, writing as “Elijah Hay”: You are a raisin, but I am a nut! What meat there is to you Can be seen at a glance— (Seeds, when they exist, are bitter) My calm, round glossiness, (For I am sound and free From wormy restlessness of spirit) Defies your casual inspection. It takes sharp teeth And some determination To taste my kernel!

the Ern Malley affair, the fame of which spread from Australia to the rest of the Englishspeaking world in 1944. The hoaxers in this case, two young conservative poets named James MacAuley and Harold Stewart, invented the iconoclastic modernist poet Ernest Lalor Malley and his slim collection of poems, titled The Darkening Ecliptic, one Saturday afternoon in October 1943. As David Lehman describes their process, “Imitating the modern poets they most despised, [MacAuley and Stewart] rapidly wrote sixteen poems that constitute Ern Malley’s ‘tragic lifework.’ They lifted lines at random from the books and papers on their desks (Shakespeare, a dictionary of quotations, an American report on the breeding grounds of mosquitoes, and so on). They mixed in false allusions and misquotations, dropped ‘confused and inconsistent hints at meaning’ in place of a coherent theme, and deliberately produced what they thought was bad verse. They called their creation Malley because mal

in French means bad. He was Ernest because they were not.” The immediate target of the hoaxers was Max Harris, a twenty-two year old poet and editor who had been using his journal Angry Penguins to promote modernist poetry in Australia. Harris was taken in completely by the Ern Malley poems, and it couldn’t have hurt that MacAuley and Stewart had invented a life story for the poet that was equal parts romantic and credible: “Having dropped out of school, the young man worked as a garage mechanic in Sydney and later as an insurance salesman and part-time watch repairman in Melbourne. In 1943 he returned to Sydney, where he died of ‘Grave’s Disease’” at twentyfive, the same untimely age as Keats. Strange to report, the Ern Malley poems can be said to have succeeded despite the best efforts of their authors. Many of the poems reflect Malley’s very Keatsian sense of impending mortality, but they do so by means of a stark and elliptical but affecting lyricism that truly suggests an original voice. This is a stanza from Malley’s “Sweet William”: One moment of daylight let me have Like a white arm thrust Out of a dark and self-denying wave And in the one moment I Shall irremediably attest How (though with sobs, and torn cries bleeding) My white swan of quietness lies Sanctified on my black swan’s breast.

Max Harris decided to devote the upcoming issue of Angry Penguins to the work of Ern Malley, and though the hoax when revealed caused something of an international sensation in the summer of 1944, Harris continued to maintain that the poems deserved the attention

he’d given them. The afterhistory of the Ern Malley affair is notable in that Max Harris and his Angry Penguins associates were not the only ones to insist on the merit of The Darkening Ecliptic. The Australian critic Philip Mead has said that “‘Ern Malley’ became, and remains, a kind of rallying point for radical modernist, postmodern and avant-garde writing in Australia.” And the poets of the New York School, especially John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch, were enamoured of the Ern Malley poems. Koch in his poetry workshops used to suggest that students follow the example of MacAuley and Stewart; he thought that the invented persona and the notion of writing “fake” poetry could be useful devices for helping the student to escape the limitations of “writing what you know.” In 1996 a hoax came to light the true origins of which have yet to be revealed. A series of poems had begun appearing in such magazines as First Intensity, Conjunctions, Grand Street, and The American Poetry Review, purporting to be the work of Araki Yasusada, a Japanese poet and survivor of the Hiroshima bombing who was supposed to have died of cancer in 1972. The papers discovered after his death included a number of arresting poems, as well as evidence that Yasusada’s encounter in the 1960s with the work of theorist Roland Barthes and San Francisco poet Jack Spicer had spurred him to embrace a new vision of disembodied authorship. Barthes’s “Death of the Author” is well known; Spicer, whose poetry deserves far more attention than it has received, promoted a kind of transpersonal poetic vision in works such as After Lorca (1957), which both translates and co-opts several poems by Federico Garcia Lorca, and includes an introduction by the deceased poet himself (who incidentally calls the work a “waste of considerable talent on something that is not worth doing”). Surely this association of Yasusada with Barthes and Spicer was an audacious stacking of the cards in the wrong direction, and yet the Yasusada poems had about a twelve-year history of being accepted as authentic until rumours began to circulate in 1996 that the poet was an invention. Kent Johnson, the man whose name has been most associated with the Yasusada poems, ultimately claimed that the poems were the work of a Japanese friend whose pseudonym was Tosa Motokiyu—a person whose authenticity has not to my knowledge been verified, who supposedly died some time in the early 90s, before he could be interviewed, and who requested in his will that his real name never be revealed. Applying Occam’s razor to the problem yields Kent Johnson himself as the most likely candidate for authorship, though the critic Mikhail Epstein, who was inspired by the Yasusada project to invent the concept of the hypernym—of which more in a moment—has presented fairly convincing hypotheses suggesting that two different Russian authors may be ultimately responsible for the Yasusada poems, and that the poems are translations by Johnson into English from Russian, rather than Japanese. The theory is not as preposterous as it may sound: Johnson is well-known as an expert in contemporary Russian literature, having edited with Stephen Ashby the celebrated anthology Third Wave: The New Russian Poetry in 1992. Whatever the “real” origin of Araki Yasusada—it is possible that the question will never be resolved, though one imagines that if any legal action were ever brought against Kent Johnson new pieces of the puzzle would be uncovered—the revelation of the hoax resulted in a thunderstorm of controversy. That such a fuss was raised might be a cause for surprise, given that the controversy was largely centred in the community associated with Language poetry, a group that has a well-established reputation for questioning the grounds of representational subjectivity, and among whom Barthes and Jack Spicer count as significant influences. One journal editor responsible for the early publication of some Yasusada poems went on record as being horrified that the perpetrators of the hoax had chosen to win sympathy for their invented poet, not by concocting a tragic

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In recent issues of the PLR you will find work by Marjorie Perloff, Gregory Ulmer, Simon Critchley, McKenzie Wark, Karen Mac Cormack, Alan Sondheim, MTC Cronin, Ales Debeljak, Allen Fisher, Drew Milne, Joshua Cohen, D.J. Huppatz, Emmanuelle Pireyre, Sandra Miller, Adrian Hornsby, Tom McCarthy, Pierre Daguin, Peter Minter, Michel Delville, Travis Jeppesen, David Seiter, Ethan Gilsdorf, Tom Jones, Kevin Nolan, Larry Sawyer, Vincent Farnsworth, Petr Borkovec, William Allegrezza and many more ... The PLR Prague’s international literary review www.shakes.cz/plr Krymská 12, 101 00 Praha 10, Czech Republic

Even more notorious than the Spectrists was

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Keatsian story of solitude and untimely death, a la Ern Malley, but by making him a hibakusha, a Hiroshima survivor—a horror that reads as a variation on Adorno’s famous dictum, “No poetry after Auschwitz.” (And indeed Hosea Hirata has written in connection with Yasusada, “Hiroshima is the impossibility of poetry.”) Ron Silliman, on the other hand—one of the central poets of the first-generation Language group and someone who admits to having been taken in by the Yasusada hoax—claimed that the project only became more interesting once its true nature was revealed. Among the champions of Yasusada as a representative of McHale’s third category— the “mock hoax,” wherein “issues of authenticity and inauthenticity are elevated to the level of poetic raw materials,” and in which group McHale includes Chatterton and Pessoa as well as Yasusada—the most outspoken besides Kent Johnson himself has been Mikhail Epstein. Epstein’s essay “Hyper-Authorship: The Case of Araki Yasusada” contains his speculations about the possible Russian origins of the Yasusada poems, and also puts forth the proposition that the Yasusada case heralds the coming of a new post-authorial era: “Why couldn’t we establish an International Society (or Network) of Transpersonal Authorship? We could invite for membership those people who feel themselves overwhelmed by different (and multiple) authorial personalities that wish to be realised through their transpersonal creative endeavours. This writing in the mode of otherness is not just a matter of a pseudonym, but rather of a hypernym. We don’t produce our own works under different names but we produce works different from our own under appropriate names.” This is a crucial issue in contemporary theory and writing. Poststructuralism has pronounced a death sentence for the individual author(ship), but does this mean that we are doomed to return to a pre-literary stage of anonymity? One cannot enter twice the same river, and anonymity in its post-authorial, not pre-authorial, implementation will turn into something different from folklore anonymity. What would be, then, a progressive, not retrospective, way out of the crisis of individual authorship? Not anonymity, I believe, but hyper-authorship. Lest we be singed by the heat of Epstein’s rhetoric, we might do well to recall that it would take more than the announcement of a new hyper-authorial dispensation to bring such a state of affairs into being. The legal and social underpinnings of representational identity persist, as I’ve argued above, and I’d suggest that it is really at the fracture-lines between the concepts of the stable proper name and the hypernym that the interest of literary hoaxes like Yasusada lies. If, however, we begin to consider what changes when we enter the arena of the virtual subject as constituted by the internet, the question of what Epstein calls “the crisis of individual authorship” takes on a new dimension. As I’ve already indicated, internet subjectivity presents us with a kind of infinitely deferred masking of the body behind the text. Whereas print culture undergirds the represented subject with an institutional framework of editorial gatekeeping, financial records, and marketing exposure—an illusory stability, perhaps, but a remarkably persuasive one—the ease of instantaneous release, the frequent lack of financial motive, and the ready-made anonymity of website publishing create a contrastingly fluid zone of representation. (In this connection it’s hard to resist mentioning a perhaps apocryphal sidenote on Araki Yasusada: one of the events that supposedly caused the hoax to unravel was that Harper’s requested permission to reprint one of the Yasusada poems from a little magazine that, like many shoestring publications, does not pay its contributors. But Harper’s couldn’t figure out who they should send a check to.) As I’ve discussed in connection with e-mail, the availability of the internet as a medium for anonymous exchange does not always, or even typically, result in suspect self-representations. Indeed, the phenomena of the personal homepage and the online diary or “blog”

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(weblog) attest to an unprecedented outpouring of sometimes excruciatingly sincere private thoughts and feelings broadcast on a public stage. But there is a sense that the internet inevitably translates even the most seemingly reliable instances of self-expression into virtual simulacra of representation. A number of poets have been led in to explore the aesthetic possibilities of this curious effect. Among the examples I might mention is the e-mail poetry of Alan Sondheim, who has published a great amount of material via various listservs, including the Language-associated Poetics listserv out of SUNY Buffalo, over the past decade. Much of Sondheim’s work takes the form of aesthetic ventriloquism in the manner of Pessoa, but significantly one of the most persistent personae, or avatars, Sondheim adopts is that of “Alan Sondheim,” a creation whose virtuality is indicated by a licensing of extreme states of paranoia, sexuality, and combativeness which it would clearly be a mistake to attribute to the poet.Also worthy of note

network of sites that together comprise what Highland calls the Worldwide Literati Mobilisation Network, sometimes referred to by the abbreviation LitMob. These sites, with names like Book Burning Department, Ink Bomb Disposal Unit, Anti-Genre Elite Corps, and New Literary Underground, represent the work of various members of the LitMob, who are engaged, Highland says, in disseminating a new form of writing called “hyperfiction.” The writing one sees on the various LitMob sites bears little resemblance to the more commonly known genre of hypertext fiction, which works by linking nonlinear text blocks—what George Landow, following Barthes, calls “lexia”—into sequences determined by the reader rather than the author. Hyperfiction by contrast would seem at first glance to be resolutely informed by the motivated syntactical instability of some Language poetry, or, one might say, by a perception that experimental poetry following after Language is obliged to be asyntactical and non-referential (a perception, it should be noted, that Charles Bernstein, Ron Silliman and

is Patrick Herron’s Proximate project at www.proximate.org, whose motto, “Getting close is what we’re all about,” gives something of the flavour of that site’s investigation into the website as both lure and deferral of human contact. The example with which I’ll end my discussion is less well known. A few months ago I was solicited for a contribution from a new online poetry journal, The Muse Apprentice Guild, in an e-mail from the journal’s editor, August Highland. As someone whose reputation as a poet is best described as nonexistent, I was of course flattered by the request, and obliged by sending a selection of recent work for the journal’s second issue. Before doing so I took a look at the journal website, and was impressed to note that the inaugural issue had poetry by Ron Silliman and by well-known digital poets such as Jim Andrews, Mez Breeze, and Alan Sondheim. But, as I soon discovered, The Muse Apprentice Guild or M.A.G. is only one among a vast

others have argued strongly against). This first impression is belied by a closer inspection of the work, which turns out to be not so much writing at all, as traditionally conceived, but rather a systematic manipulation of source texts that works to produce a kind of patina of unexpectedness and originality. One example which resembles poetry more than fiction is the first instalment in a collection by Alvin Sachs, described as a kaballahinfluenced project that seeks to represent “the 10 sephiroth or transitions through which divinity becomes the world.” An excerpt from the section titled Kether begins: wound hearts why these occasions colonel exclaim remembers living flesh lie long together hand enamoured milkmaid surly believe exquisitely pleasures brought well well entertained eagle roaring lions queue streets chesapeake cargo notions sole two grass heads scarcely ladies taken humbugging chivalry

southern road one generally such recognise vexation injured pride tenabominations house being stated confined came entertained eagle duties very smallest intellect long sitting gentlemen says doomed ultimately rusting eastward extremely

What’s notable about such texts is that they tend to retain trace features of literariness—in this example, poetic lineation, some rhythmic regularity in the repetition of short pseudodeclarative units, and rhyme-like echoes, especially of adverbs ending in “-ly”—while remaining largely unreadable in any traditional sense. (I’d want to distinguish here between LitMob-style hyperfiction and the procedureoriented work of such writers as John Cage and Jackson Mac Low, where a manifestly rigorous aesthetic control has simply been displaced from content to form.) The determining condition for hyperfiction— Highland tellingly uses “hyper-literary fiction” as an interchangeable term—would seem to be that it resemble literature consistently enough to serve as content for a literary movement. The movement itself is the central target of August Highland’s creative energies. As he states in the “About the Editor” page of The Muse Apprentice Guild, “August Highland is the originator of hyper-literary fiction and is the founder of the simulated literary movement the worldwide literati mobilisation network,” “all 60 members” of which “are august highland’s multiple personas.” “Collectively,” Highland says, “the members of the wlmn have produced over 50,000 volumes of hyperliterary fiction ranging in length from 175 pages to over 1,000 pages.” Clearly Highland’s work goes beyond the bounds of the literary hoax, and yet he has gone to great pains to invest his “simulated movement” with all the paratextual equipment of a real organisation: author photos, which variously resemble (and no doubt actually are) actor’s headshots, college yearbook photos, and vintage portraits; improbable biographies; indexes and membership rosters; information about new releases, press coverage, and coming events. Anyone who fails as I did to read the editorial statement before delving into the various LitMob sites is liable to be at least momentarily taken in by the sheer immensity of the project—or simulated immensity, since it turns out that one can’t actually view anything like 50,000 volumes—and by its exuberance and detail. I admit that I haven’t quite decided what I think Highland is up to—he says that “the digital tools we employ in the generation of our hyper-literary fiction are self-extensions and inextricable elements of the creative process of writers who are producing literature in the technoculture of our times—the question of whether literature is machine- or man-made is now irrelevant—machine and man are as inseparable as nature and nature or man and god,” and that “the mission of the worldwide literati mobilisation network is to reflect [the] underlying sociological landscape with reformed language that affects change in the world of letters and especially in the world at large,” without quite indicating what this change will or should entail—indeed, in his theoretical comments Highland could be said to present a simulacrum of theory much as hyper-literary fiction gives us a simulacrum of literature. The interest of the project for me lies in its being a completely web-dependent entity. The limited cases of the literary hoax—the fact that the institutional requirements of print culture almost entirely preclude the use of assumed identities outside the bounds of the hoax—give way in internet culture to an open invitation to play with the boundaries of the self. Highland’s LitMob may not represent the most aesthetically engaging response to the notion of the virtual subject one could conceive of, but like many pioneering efforts it does suggest an expansive field of possibilities. 


The Wall Joshua Cohen If my wall was this testament, there would be no more words—my wall is empty in this empty lot, no graffiti, not here. Outside the urbis, amid the sprawl, where I am now, the stars above are enough to make me want to pluck out my eyes in some depraved act of Greco-Romance. Inside, in the interior, where I once lived with Janice and Josh, there were no stars—stars disappear there above the main drags, dim out, dim like the people there— everything has the eventual tendency to flatten. Down one of those drags, heading away, running away from whatever it is my wife and my old shrink and her shrink who knows my shrink, my old shrink, knows him I think more than professionally—away from what they say I’m running from, past strips of insurers and usurers and retail outlets, past my old firm’s old office, past summers and into the unseasonable openness, through invisible walls, through invisible walls within invisible walls—and here I am, here—eating pickled eggs from a jar the tender doesn’t know I have, doesn’t know I took, doesn’t know I hide between my thighs to keep them warm. And this is all I have to show for myself—this wall. My whole life—this wall. The justification of my existence whole—this wall, an albatross nest atop—I’m joshing—Josh the name of my dead son. I’ve sunk most of my money into this wall. I’ve spent, my wife, okay ex-wife, would say wasted, ten years of my life on this wall, and so I’ve earned my rage, my hatred for everything that would be under the moon if there was any moon tonight. I am this wall and this wall is me—and we are both here, for now. Ten years ago next week, my son, then nine, rode his bicycle into this wall, my wall. His spine snapped on impact—he died. I was a lawyer then—my wife a lawyer too—we were both lawyers. Not knowing why, I purchased this wall, my wall. The wall is freestanding in an empty lot between The Drain, my preferred drinking establishment, and an abandoned factory, a factory which had manufactured umbrellas—everything in and on umbrellas with the exception of the handles, which were made in Southeast Asia somewhere—Vietnam maybe, ask Abel—for less expense than if they were made here— and they were shipped here and attached on site, top-quality handles my friend Marcus says, another regular here at the Drain. And, he says, I need to get a handle, hahaha, very funny you goddamned lush. The wall, according to Abel, Abel Greenberg, the man who sold me the wall, was an interior wall in his, Abel’s, father’s warehouse, a storage warehouse—it, the wall, was the only thing that survived the fire which ruined Greenberg Sr.’s dreams of a Miami retirement, and a semiquasi-maybe-pseudo-tropical death. My wife, my ex-wife, left me after I bought the wall and I started sleeping out here, in the open, where I could see the stars—thought I was going insane, and maybe I am—if I am it’s fine with me. I obtained a restraining order preventing her from getting within a specific distance, I forget what exactly, of the wall, which obviously prohibits her from leaving asters here in late summer, on the anniversary—as she did the first three years—until she met Richard—Janice, how is Richard, by the by?— Richard, Dick, and how is Janice? Another round, please—on you. The freshly-woken and showered tender—whom I’ve never bothered to meet and who’s never bothered to meet me, though I know everyone else here and he knows everyone too, all these freaks, whatever knowing means— he keeps tabs in his private mind, and he knows what I owe and it’s enough. Feeling—I insist that I never think and Marcus, or is it Kurt, is inclined to agree, aren’t you?—feeling that I’d have to leave my place of employment to devote my full attentions to the upkeep of the wall, I’d left to this place, my preferred drinking establishment, across from the wall, within spitting distance, facing this lot where old umbrellas wind around towards the edge of the factory district—so loud, metal spokes on the asphalt, it’s impossible to feel here. And now—get this— they want to tear it down! Who? The goddamned State—that’s who! They want the wall, says it’s part of gentrification ,

prettification, updating the factory district. Where my son, my only son, died is not an eyesore. You fathom the testicles on these individuals? So you know what I’m going to do? I’m taking this outside—I’ve got a thermos—and I’m going to sleep and wake and eat and shit in front of my wall, refusing to move for these people. I mean—who the hell do they think they are? Eminent domain hitting me like a theological term—and I don’t believe in God anymore! I’ve got all my legal books— examining the cases, the precedents, what recourses I have—I have my rights! What about my rights? My Josh had such promise, Marcus. How much promise you’re supposed to ask. More promise than any one of you schmucks. He was a wizard—a genuine prodigy, a rare talent and he rode his bicycle— first bicycle without training wheels—a great and bright and clear summer day—the kind of day that becomes in your memory every summer day. And my son goes and rides it into a wall and dies. Talk about not doing anything half-assed! That’s a son of mine! And you want to talk about running up against walls? My

think it wouldn’t take serious—Hello, Marie, looking well, yes, fine, and you? And the sob’s were supposed to paint around the goddamned stain! And what do you think they did? They painted over it! I mean Jesus H. mother goddamned—what the hell were they thinking? There was this spot there, the bloodspot, the wall’s imperfection or the wall was the imperfection around the stain—that was where my son hit—and they paint over it—and the foreman, Martino himself—keep my voice down he’s a friend of Paul’s—the guy says to me, Sorry friend, but I didn’t think you’d want a stain on your wall. I mean why go through all the trouble to redo a wall and leave a stain on it like that? And as long as I’m saying so—what do you want with that wall anyway? I mean—this whole district’s over— slated for wreckage. But it’s your dollar, friend, your dollar—You’re goddamned right it’s my dollar, you schmuck! And I told him the whole story and he said he was sorry and then—get this—the guy offers to paint another stain on the wall, almost exactly like the one he painted over—he said he could do it from memory—

irresistible force, is that which is most still—is me—this wall, mine. Is me, here. I can’t hear you Marcus—you’ll have to come over here if you have something to say and say it, and bring a bottle while you’re at it and some glasses and ice and let’s have ourselves—but he’s gone … The Drain’s closing up for the night and with its lights out, and the moon which stayed home tonight, the stars are even brighter and clearer and my wall is even whiter and the dark is even darker and I’m alone, here—trying to push my wall across the State before morning—before—I’ll concede—guaranteed destruction not to mention serious legal problems and then what’ll I do without any family or job or wife or friends or money or wall? Yes—I’ll push my wall across the State and into the river, where it’d be my raft—it’d float—and I’d raft down the river until the river spills out into the open ocean—the stars should be breathtaking out there—and from there, who knows …? I’ll float, maybe—maybe right off the edge of this flattening world.  Anselm Hollo From Guests of Space inkling in/kling ink/ling Norse “enkel” equals single equals simple Middle Dutch “enckelinge”—a falling or diminishing of notes Middle English a whisper, a murmur, low speaking a hint, an intimation “To inkle the truth” actual instance of speech years lost in the alleys of making minimal unities of meaning possible in a line Eluard: the earth is blue like an orange & I’m just a tepid heart inhabiting The Blossom with tactful terrorism. The tear-stained screed ____________________________________

View of the Western Wailing Wall, photograph by Michael L. Bovee, 2000

appeals—denied. My appeals to those appeals—denied. My request to represent myself—denied—I’m feeling like Jesus here. My ex-wife—anyone got a quarter, a quarter, twenty-five cents, anyone—here’s the pay telephone spiel: Lenny—give it up, she says, It’s time to move on—I have. Have you? You haven’t even been to the cemetery Lenny! But he’s dead there—no answers there—the wall’s the responsible party—accountability starts here, here’s where things should sort themselves out—here’s the immovable object. Hello there, Richard, I hear you there smiling. You have another son now and I ask, Janice, How’s Sam? And she says, I know you’ve heard this Marcus, she says, Why should I tell you. Who are you to him—well, the answer is that I’m his inadvertent father. But who was I? I was known as a pillar, a prominent attorney, a distinguished member of many and variegated institutions. I was a lay member many times over and lay members don’t take things lying down. I worked my way through law school and then supported my wife through her law schooling and then took her into my firm—and then he died and then she left me— and then I left my firm—and then she left my firm, she says our—I hired Richard too, right out of his law school—so my money, or money from me, or money I made possible—funded his law school—his first years working paid off his loans and debts. But debts—you want to talk debts? The wall cost me a second mortgage, and then the house—it’s a large wall, not just what you’re seeing framed from the doorway of the Drain. Yes, Kurt, down the drain—Jesus H. I’ve surrounded myself with idiots. And then my luxury four-door sedan, and then my savings, the money my father left me—for upkeep. Martino Bros. did a replastering job—lazy sob’s nearly tore the thing down—reinforcement work, steel struts, power wash first and then a paint job— matching virgin white for virgin white, you’d

and then he acted offended when I exploded on him. Could you believe it? What would he stain it with? My blood?—No one’s blood, Paul, no one’s, wasn’t talking to you, no, enjoy. And they’re there tomorrow morning, wrecking crew from the State, unionised demolishers … And yes, one more and that’s that—I’ll pay from the settlement money, I’m good for it. Marcus’ll walk me out across to my wall and he’ll stay with me—he’s a gardener for some rich schmuck up the Gold Way, property on the marshes, another redeveloped section. And then I’ll wait—I’ve got a warm quilt here and the jar of pickled eggs and some jerky left over from— Goodnight, yes. Alright—so wish me good luck. So Marcus won’t come—I’ll pay you tomorrow—you know I’m good for it, and yes though that’s what I always say—it’s true or at least I mean it—he’s got some woman keeping him in watered—excuses, excuses, excuses, a triple excuse and I’m on the rocks … So I’m here, shoot me, seriously—or come stick notes in my cracks—yes, it’s cracking already, where’s my guarantee? The one I paid hand over fist over hand over fist over hand over fist for? And how many hands is that and how many people are required for that?—yes, come and pray, one and all, and to any and every nonexistent God, for whatever you like—at my freestanding wall facing in every direction at once. Come and I’ll trade you umbrellas for presence—I’ve more umbrellas than raindrops tonight and some are just spokes without fabric stretched and the sounds these make winding across the lot from the Drain to my wall, echoing off my wall, are enough to make me truly, absolutely and under any definition insane—can’t think and don’t want to. So—Come on out tomorrow and face them with me—testify to the wall—to the redemptive powers in its possession. And you—Come with your court-orders and mandates and uniforms and force, pure force … you want force? Force,

They discussed the Code of the West “Plan your moves Pick your place Don’t make any threats Don’t walk away ever” Enter in black fur coat Mournful eccentric Songs of lamentation Evening at Donnelly’s Pub in Iowa City Thirty-plus years ago “You look just like Frankenstein’s Monster!” What to do but grin back at him With bad original teeth: “I AM HE!” And this is way too literal So hand me that drug of Egyptian origin Mentioned in the Odyssey Before the guys with the torches arrive ____________________________________ Traveling into the past on the Internet I see an old friend from forty years ago Now dead five years. He hasn’t changed a bit. Or listening to a tape there are lots of feathers Another friend’s feathery voice Stilled in a mix of blood and French gasoline. Deserters both of them, one from Hitler’s army The other from consensus reality: “When he was good he was just mildly insane When he was bad he was out of his mind” & into another we could not know. And this is one of those “long ago” poems. They did give me courage: I still run On some of their essence. They were fine deserteurs. ____________________________________ By the end of the day I will have said all I had to say This day to loved ones Friends associates grocery checkout persons And quietly in my head Even to those little gangsters In their sentimental suits Who run the show And seem very fond of The Kiplingesque expression “At the end of the day” (harrumph) Trying to indicate that they just know What something they call The Outcome will be

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The Trip, around us Melissa McCarthy My concern in this article is to identify and discuss the idea of The Trip. The Trip, in essence, is any instance in which a person or object moves from one state to another, and at the moment of transit, a new and extra element intrudes into the scene. The result is that the end point is not only different from the starting point, but is no longer even on a consistent plane of development with it. A good starting point for recognising The Trip comes in William Faulkner’s 1948 novel Intruder in the Dust, when the young protagonist’s uncle is relating to the boy what Lucas, a black man, told the uncle about the disputed shooting of a bad, white local called Vinson. Lucas had been blamed for this shooting and nearly lynched, but in fact the perpetrator was Crawford, a brother of Vinson. The chain of events is as follows. Firstly, Lucas and Vinson are in the woods together, and Crawford (Vinson’s brother and business partner) comes there too. Crawford shoots Vinson, but Lucas is the only one who knows this, at the time. Following this incident in the woods, Lucas talks to the uncle, offering a partial explanation of what has happened. Finally, the uncle recounts this to the boy. This is how the uncle describes it: the next Lucas saw was Vinson coming down the path from the store in a good deal of a hurry Lucas said but probably what he meant was impatient, puzzled and annoyed both but probably mostly annoyed, probably doing exactly what Lucas was doing: waiting for the other to speak and explain that Vinson quit waiting first according to Lucas, still walking saying getting as far as “So you changed your mind—” when Lucas said he tripped over something and kind of bucked down on to his face and presently Lucas remembered that he had heard the shot and realised that what Vinson had tripped over was his brother Crawford …

As the uncle carries on discussing the complexity of the pattern of events, he mentions that “Vinson Crawford’s partner tripped suddenly on death in the woods.” (In his speech-patterns the uncle omits to use commas to separate the phrase “Crawford’s partner” from the name “Vinson,” to which it is in apposition.) This makes three times that Faulkner uses exactly the same form of the verb ‘trip’ in the one episode that is the epicentre of plot for the whole novel; but although the form of the word remains the same, the reach of its meaning expands enormously. The meaning of the first instance is straightforward and literal: “Vinson tripped over something” and fell from upright to horizontal on the ground. The second instance is hazier in meaning. Vinson tripped over his brother, but not literally; Crawford didn’t touch Vinson’s feet to impede his walking. Vinson tripped over his brother in the sense that Crawford was behaving in a low and underhand manner in cheating then shooting Vinson; it’s as though, metaphorically, Crawford were crouching low down and Vinson fell over him. “Tripped” also implies sudden-ness and surprise, and it is true that Vinson had no idea that he was being cheated or threatened until Crawford suddenly appeared and shot him. The third and best usage is that “Vinson tripped suddenly on death in the woods.” You could substitute “died” for “tripped suddenly on death,” but it seems a poor swap. You could say: “Vinson encountered death; death / killing brought him down; he stumbled and he was dead; the time and occasion of his death hit Vinson at this point; Vinson entered the space of death.” But no paraphrasis has the same set of meanings, associations and power as does the use of the phrase “to trip on death.” It brings to mind the three primary meanings of “trip”:- to fall over; to move lightly; to make a journey. The first of these is a physical action, requiring a person and an impediment (even if the impediment is the person’s own feet), and the impediment to cause a change of level and orientation. This sort of trip always comes as a surprise to the person who experiences it, to the extent that a deliberate trip might qualify for another name, such as “gag” “hop,” or “pratfall.” Secondly, trip involves skipping

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lightly, playfully—being in movement. This tripping often goes hand in hand with a “hop,” and it reminds us of leaving the ground before returning to a slightly different part of the surface. This kind of trip can certainly be done deliberately, as can the meaning of “to take a trip.” This third use requires that there be two physical locations, or (since the Oxford English Dictionary’s first recorded usage in 1966), two states of mind. (The OED also explains that “trip” as in “excursion” began as a specifically nautical term, before becoming quickly adapted to land-based use as well.) Faulkner’s use of the word “tripped” in this extract brings into consideration all of these meanings, and all of them in respect of recounting actions that involve a close relationship to death. Via his insistent repetition, we are introduced to The Trip: a phenomenon that indicates a way of moving and, often, of being in relation to the space of death. Threshold is the vital counterpart to the idea of Trip. Threshold, the doorway, is something that you can trip on or over. Threshold is a boundary or terminus, that both marks out the fact that there are two spaces (one you are in, or were in; one you have gone to, or could go to), and raises a vital question about how you

of the story allows us to recognise Trip. But within formats of information, also, Trip can be found. The newspaper obituary, for example, is a format of Trip, in that the information, which is in many cases a prepared text with accompanying photos and layout, remains the same between the two states of being in waiting, and being activated (by the obituary subject’s death). Trip occurs by the fact that in the transition from the same information being made ready and being printed in the particular day’s paper, a new and extra element imposes itself. And this element is the status of the text: before, in the first state, the information was simply biography, or in some cases gossip. In the second state, when the information is functioning in its true role, it has not simply been moved onto newsprint, but has been elevated into the powerful art form of the obituary, making itself open for investigation, archiving and use as raw material. Again, in the process of cinema we find an example of a format that manifests Trip. In this case, the two states between which movement is made are, firstly, the image in one frame of the film, and secondly the image in the next frame. The objects portrayed therein are in one physical arrangement, then in another; the two pictures record one moment of time, then a second moment. If two still images were simply presented to a viewer as “image one” and “image two,” there would be contrast, but no Trip. The Trip comes from the fact that by moving the r e c o r d i n g substance (the filmstrip) from one state to the second state at a certain speed, we enter a completely new mode, that of the moving image. Still from Jean Cocteau’s Orphée, 1950 Something extra cross. The Trip, to reiterate, requires not just has entered the process at the point of transit the existence of two states, though, nor even between the first state and the second, and by the fact of movement between two states. It is doing so, it has raised a whole new realm of of vital importance that the crossing of the existence. Just as being fast in a boat and being threshold is not smooth, but rather disturbed gone are on different planes of reference, being or turbulent; that there are elements of in image number one and being animated, playfulness and the risk of accident; and that brought to life, are entirely different planes. something is added during the moment of These two formats, the obituary and the crossing. Trip is the moment at which the rogue cinema, then, make use of trip. Within each element comes in at the precise time and skews format, there is a host of examples of Tripthe progression so that the final state is based content also. From recent newspaper different, other than what we expected, obituaries we might consider George Porter, suddenly made more intense or enormous. chemist, who was born on 6th December 1920, A perfect example of all the requisites of The and died on 31st August 2002. Porter was Trip can be found outside of literature, in the awarded the 1967 Nobel Chemistry Prize for 1967 death of Donald Campbell, speed-boat his work on flash photolysis, which uses pulses racer. Plenty of sportspeople die in the pursuit of light to trace the extremely rapid progresof their sport, such as Ayrton Senna in his sion of free radicals during photochemical reracing car on Mayday 1994, but what sets actions. That is, he discovered a new method Campbell apart and qualifies his action as a of following what was happening during the case of Trip is that something extra comes in process of photosynthesis, which is the way in at the moment of transformation. Senna’s which green plants convert carbon dioxide and demise was simply a progression from going water into other substances, and which is the fast in a vehicle to not doing so, matched by a fundamental process of how life is possible on earth. progression from being alive to being dead. Its pertinent aspect in relation to The Trip is This is not Trip, it is simply change. In Campbell’s case, in contrast, the two states the fact than when it occurs in nature, the switched between are not corresponding ones. forward reaction—the synthesis of water and It’s not just that he crashed. It’s that he went CO2 into carbohydrates—is not accompanied extremely fast and hit turbulence at a particular by the backwards reaction that in theory should border area between speeds, and this caused accompany any process. (Information from him not to go faster or slower—elements along Anthony Tucker’s obituary in The Guardian, a continuum—but to disappear (for thirty 03/09/2002.) Porter was the master investigator years). This can only be achieved by of photosynthesis, and as such, he presides introducing a particular and very interesting over this manifestation of Trip, in which during type of disturbance at just the right moment the movement between two states, an extra between two apparently adjacent states. The element intrudes which disrupts the change in state from “going fast” to progression. In this case, the extra element is the disappearance (in an echo of Campbell) of “disappeared” is an occurrence of Trip. From literature and from speed-racing, then, the expected counter-reaction as the second we can gather examples of Trip. We should state is reached. Another proponent of Trip from newspaper note also that Trip can appear both in the format of art, narrative and literature, and in the obituaries is Aleksandre Prokhorov, physicist, content. The first two examples discussed who was born on 11th July 1916, and died on above are content-based, in that the substance 8th January 2002. From 1954, Prokhorov was

Head of the Department of Oscillations at the Lebedev Physical Institute in Leningrad, and in 1964 he shared the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on the laser and its precursor the maser. His discovery followed on from Einstein’s early theory of amplifying radiation, for which Prokhorov devised equipment which could finally test such theories. His equipment caused electrons in a beam to be nudged into higher-energy states, then knocked back down to their original, lower energy state. This transition between two states is accompanied by a burst of pure microwave radiation, and this intrusion of an extra element into the process— radiation—qualifies Prokhorov as a practitioner of Trip. (Information from Pearce Wright’s obituary in The Guardian, 11/01/ 2002.) From cinema, a prime example of The Trip occurs in Cocteau’s 1949 film Orphée. The first time Trip happens in the film is when the dead poet is recalled to life. From lying horizontal on the floor, he suddenly resurrects, and immediately upon returning to his feet he follows The Princess (who is his Death) through the mirror. For the viewer, this comes as a genuine surprise. Something extra has intruded into the scene, so that the progress is not as we thought it would be; it’s not something that we thought even could happen, to cross this particular surface and substance in this way, and to enter the new realm, that of the space of death. To get to this location, the characters have had to make use of Trip, and again when we see them in the dead city for the first time, it is with a sudden, physical stumble or trip that they begin being transported in a high wind towards the courtroom. (Cocteau devised the special effects of the mirror using mercury, which is one of the reasons why the characters had to wear gloves as they reach their hands into the surface of the mirrors, so that the actors didn’t get mercury poisoning. This is a reminder that genetic mutation, too, is a form of Trip.) A question naturally arises of how one might bring about trip—does it impose itself, can it be invited? The answer to this is presently uncertain, but the indications are that repetition, geometry, and the sidelong approach are good starting points. From Faulkner, we see that multiple repetition of the word “tripped” is a pointer towards the very idea of a particular way of being and moving in relation to the space of death. The radio broadcasts in Orphée, with their insistent “Je repete, une fois; je repete, deux fois,” reinforce the idea that repetition is a key towards accessing death via the Trip. From Donald Campbell, we see that certain uses of geometry can lead to this privileged entrance into a new space. At his final run over the lake, some accounts of events give that he had not left enough time for the turbulence caused by previous trajectories to calm down. He went back over the lines that he had already drawn onto the surface, the wake of his boat, thereby disturbing their existing division of the shape—their geometry. (This leads to a Lynchean joke: why did Campbell have to die? Because he went back to his own wake. This joke is funny because a recurring concern of David Lynch’s films Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive is that one should not, it is metaphysically unsustainable, to look at oneself dead. This idea was also well developed by Penelope Farmer in the 1969 children’s book Charlotte Sometimes.) More research is needed to obtain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of The Trip, and to investigate how it could be better understood and used. But I hope this article serves a useful purpose in identifying the phenomenon, and in offering examples of it from both format and content, and from the fields of literature, art, film and history. Once identified in this way, The Trip and its associate elements of threshold, stumbling and repetition can be used to develop a more sophisticated understanding of how to move and to be, in relation to the spaces, including spaces of death, that can be seen in various art forms, and in areas of life all around us. 


Michael Rothenberg From Responder

Tom McCarthy Agamemnon [a play in two acts]

The apartment will sell

X 1 Above the bay 30,000 foot high green copper Kuan-yin of Liberty

8 The beach bum on 23rd St. will blow Away whiskers, thin withered brown sandpaper skin Become a “Man of Letters”

2 Esther passing through the Inter-Dimensional Gateway

What is the appeal?! To outwit the masters and conquer the field? There will be no future!

On the floor immediately to the doorway’s left (stage right), a doormat bearing the word “Welcome.”

3 Jehovah on the witness stand testifying against Himself

Aguardiente and cognac in the cabinet For the hardwired addict Could a good woman and mother assure me a healthy mind?

Several feet to the doorway’s right (stage left), a bathtub. At the base of the doorway itself, a block of wood or metal three feet long and one and a half inches high. This must be firmly attached to the stage floor.

4 Mother Earth dragonfly in perpetuity on a Cattail Galaxy

Act One Lights up to reveal the entrance to a house. This consists of a free-standing doorway (frame only) installed in the middle of the stage and facing along the stage right to stage left axis, i.e. at an angle of exactly ninety degrees to the audience.

Enter, from stage right, Agamemnon, a man in his mid-forties. He walks from stage right towards stage left in a straight line that runs through the doorway. As he passes through the frame, he trips on the block and falls over.

5 Santa Claus offers a slimmed down version of Egg Nog 6 What did I hear you say Listening for a Feedback Mirror? 7 A Tapestry re-weaves itself Imagining a Penelope

Lights down.

Act Two Lights half up to reveal a set cleared of doorway, doormat and bathtub, i.e. consisting only of the block. Across the stage’s back wall the events of Act One, which have been filmed by a camera intalled in front of the stage exactly in line with the doorway, are replayed by means of a video projector. The replay must take place in extreme slow motion, at such a speed that the sequence from Agamemnon’s entrance to his arrival at a state of rest on the floor lasts forty minutes. Lights down.

Notes 1. Agamemnon’s fall must follow the same stage right to stage left trajectory as his walk, so that he falls through and from the frame towards the bathtub, coming to rest face down with his feet pointing back towards the doorway and his hands towards the bathtub. 2. If the video replay equipment being used for the production is not sophisticated enough to replay Act One in extreme slow motion within Act Two immediately, Act One should be filmed and the footage slowed down to the desired speed using appropriate editing software prior to the performance. In this case, the actor playing Agamemnon must ensure that his movements are identical both times he performs Act One. 3. For this version of Agamemnon, the camera must be placed among the audience seating exactly in line with the doorway, as stated. The director can, however, choose to stage different versions by placing the camera on the theatre’s ceiling directly above the doorway pointing down towards the floor, in which case the play’s title for that particular production should be amended to Agamemnon (Gods); or by placing it off stage left pointing across towards stage right, in which case the play’s title should be amended to Agamemnon (Clytemnestra); or by using three cameras, one placed in each of the positions indicated above, in which case the play’s title should be amended to Agamemnon (Cassandra). 

8 It’s becoming more difficult to travel Outside 9 My Cave Is Blue Sail Foam White Sunlit Cloud Wisp Seclusion 10 Once Osama bin Laden Is Dead We Can Hug Each Other 11 Pussy Cat Lounge, Miami Gold, Kundalini Rising

Fridays I will walk to shul Tefillin, vegetarian kosher, jump from the window Streetsweepers, poets drop out of the temple into the fray The job will never get done Suspended in enormous beauty, elements & effort Cross the street, cross the street The ocean steals the beach Life is good, urchins lay out in the Gulf Stream Toasted day old bagels, tuna and strong coffee, you get by Go alone to orphanage, dignity is faith Maybe there’s a movie you never saw surprises you Change channels, crumbs in the sheets, every chance you get 9 See “The Family Man” and weep 10 Cold aqua 11 Great Blue Heron

XII 1 Rain. Bougainvillea I think I know less than I know Watery shafts, shadows, winged flocks Stucco and orange clay tiled roofs Barking dogs & mobile candelabras LLL. says, “giving up what was never really yours but yet was you” … and “those practices which refer to ‘retention’ etc. … these are called sacred because they introduce you to your ‘shit’, i.e., you have to go back & repair a lot of construction to support that bliss & that level of abandonment (of EGO)” And we must mind our manners “face to face w. most irrational (& egocentric) aspects in order to liberate fr. them”. Garland of pink carnations & red velvet roses hang on doorknob to closet of first transgressions Dormant in the seed

12 anahinga Ochopee Post Office River of Grass swamp buggy air boat Tamiami Trail ball moss panther crossing Caribbean Gardens vulture Turner River Miccosukee Bingo & Gaming egret

2 customs taboos rituals habits addictions views rules violations fears principles practices laws commandments ways ideologies repressions mores precepts definitions paths fears beliefs

14 After the first of the year it doesn’t change anything

3 Dichotomy 4 Nothing. There’s nothing. Nobody has 5 Fast approaching end of time Nearing 6 Silent prayer wheels Over the concept of who one is 7 And if but when the windows are clean the sun will come in

13 “Maybe you should become a Nuclear Physicist.” Why? “Because you have so many Questions.”

Erosion, of course, more going back North and Midwest But orange juice locates around heart chakra In rainbow of harp music we’re sealed in ripe oily rind Comes under heading of tropical elevator to ceiling above Sun Will not stop once the fluid flows But the small stuff gets angry Threads come loose along the edge, mindfulness stumbles. Poppy seed

caught between front teeth big as a screwdriver Invasion of Special Forces, shoe-bombs, hydraulic garbage truck. Low on fuel and water. The lotus wheels us closer to emptiness. The wool rash scratches the super-linear thrust It’s not about me anymore, or where she went when they tied her jaw shut, raised her above the muck into the marble vault God body-bagged the corpse of the invincible American Dream

Andrew Norris Wet Bite Nettle Water is —————————————— bite-sized pieces of dome-shaped realia, skidding mill pond murder hole trefoil hallucination : a hotel watercourse, a reach in every room Escher-defying massive hook-a-duck. She had a hollow mouth, the woman on the balcony could have swallowed or better still overlooking the Meuse, house in tow bitter pill to swallow hard she went from a very dark square place to a very suddenly light one. In one room a weasel, a mole, a girl and A very nervous rabbit. (‘Look ! Its shit !’) One of them with child bred fainting dog on the street with a pair of whiskerandos ferret-bitten to the bone on camera. Why ever should the sense of personal continuity remain consoling ? By walking on water or over the bridge in a boat in the fat-boy windermere sub calling for help for the whey-faced useless cunt Medusa-like with a glorified golf-ball lump and Frankenstein zip, waving a towel eyeball to eyelashless eye with the arctic char ? Eyes on the yellow bridge our murdered mouth morning glory how ever did she get across ? They do say that language is there to help us pretend we all have feelings differently. She had been told, you see by an Irishman wanted in Crete to do something that nobody human had ever done and encouraged to ask the little accused suddenly I would kill : ‘In your life, what kinds of things have you felt responsible for ?’ That she could cross over into seerhood. But all she sees is a kind of hot dog vision with obligatory collar and teeth foaming in the countdown mosan depths and coming at her seal-like out of the zoo.

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The Molecular Invasion McKenzie Wark Critical Art Ensemble, The Molecular Invasion (New York: Autonomedia, 2002). 140pp. ISBN 157027-138-0.

Percy Schmeiser is a Canadian canola (or rapeseed) farmer who was sued by Monsanto, the St Louis based agribusiness giant, for infringing on its patents. Monsanto owns a kind of canola seed that is resistant to its own famous brand of herbicide, Round Up. Many farmers use Round Up, including Schmeiser. Usually, you have to spray it on your fields before planting, as it kills everything. But with Monsanto’s patented seeds, you can spray it on the crops without killing them. Schmeiser says he always used his own seed varieties. He saved seeds for replanting from the harvest. If he used Monsanto’s, he would have to sign a contract promising to buy new seeds from them, and pay a $37 per hectare fee. Monsanto claim they found their seeds in his crops, and filed suit for $400,000 in damages. Schmeiser claimed that Monsanto’s seeds blew in from neighbouring farms or from a nearby roadway, and counter sued. Whatever the rights or wrongs of this particular case, it’s a fine instance of the kind of molecular invasion at the heart of what Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) call the “struggle in the biopolitical realm of representation.” (60) As they say, we live in an era when “all usefully profitable genes and biochemicals from various genomes are being privatise d and patented.” (54) Agribusiness has for some time had two components. The land itself is often owned and farmed by large conglomerates. These may also be integrated with food processing and manufacturing interests. Two phases in the commodification of need—agriculture and manufacturing, are now increasingly joined to a third, the commodification of information. Or as CAE say, “molecular invasion and control is rapidly being transformed into new types of colonial and endo-colonial control. The focus seems to be on consolidating the food chain from molecular structure to product packaging.” (8) Molecular Invasion is CAE’s fifth and in many ways best book to date. It is the most developed version of their “contestational biology.” (10) It begins with an exercise in tactical semiotics. There is no end to the ways in which one could interpret the cultural history of the relationship of nature to second nature. CAE cut straight to the most useful rhetorical constructs. They identify the tension between purity and pollution as a persistent figure. In Ovid’s Metamorphosis, only the Gods have the power to produce recombinant beings. When mortals attempt to breach the bounds of natural order, they merely pollute it. Daedalus and Icarus, imprisoned on Crete, make wings to fly to the heavens, where there are no tyrants. Icarus, flying too close to the sun, melts the

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wax affixing his wings to his body and plummets to earth. From the art work of Hieronymus Bosch, with his catalogue of unnatural acts, to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the attempt to muddy the boundaries of the natural order end in disaster. Likewise, in David Cronenberg’s film The Fly, the transgression of the order of the species produces the monstrous. When scientist Seth Brundle accidentally mixes his being with that of a fly, he “pollutes” himself, and ends up crashing like Icarus, another monster in Bosch’s gallery of unnatural desires. CAE link this rhetoric to the colonial ideologies which stress the separation of the races. While they don’t pursue this point, they touch on a lingering ambiguity in postcolonial discourse. Talk of “hybridity” partakes of a racist discourse that presupposes ‘pure’ racial terms, no matter how much it may value cultural heterogeneity, borrowings or mimesis. While progressive rhetorics arising out of the politics of race may stress the artifice of race and the heterogeneity it conceals, progressive rhetorics about nature stress its purity and want to resist its “pollution” by human intervention. What is interesting about CAE’s position is that they are not necessarily against genetic engineering. They want to return the focus to the commodification of nature as information. Theirs is not a holy quest for a pure nature. In a typically hair raising phrase, CAE state that “while the body can be made to reflect the signs of civilisation, the flesh itself is not fully rationalise d to best approximate the ideal demands of capital in terms of market adaptability and efficiency.” (29) And perhaps can never be—but that doesn’t stop the formation of a discourse in which the interests of the commodifiers of nature are made to be congruent with a social interest, and the interest of nature itself. While CAE are not opposed to genetic science or its products, they are suspicious of

confusing on the other side, where commodification seizes on both a romantic faith in the purity of nature (to sell “organic” produce at a premium) while also promoting development strategies that overcome the Hobbesian terrors of nature “red in tooth and claw.” Nevertheless CAE are surely right to argue that since the cracking of the genome, “a profound sense of ideological dissonance now haunts the western world” (17) Their own tactic for making headway amid the noise is to propose adding a fourth domain to orders of nature. Modern biology mostly agrees on three domains of organism: archaebacteria, bacteria and eukaryotes. To this “historical” distinction, they add a technological one: the transgeneae organism. The first to third domains arose out of a combination of mutation and sexual selection. They arose “historically,” in that organisms had limited resources with which to respond to their environments. Only what was available in a given genome could be the working material for adaptation. The fourth domain is different. Nothing stops a researcher inserting a gene from one species into a completely unrelated one, even one from a completely different domain. It is as if the historical development of life merely traced a line of actualisation through a vast notional space of virtual beings, which might be composed of every possible combination of every element in the genetic language. Many points in that virtual space would code for organisms that were not viable—like the Brundlefly in Cronenberg’s films. But many others—who knows?—may thrive. It is at once exhilarating and terrifying to contemplate the possibility of a postevolutionary future. Exhilarating, in that the tyranny of nature could finally become a part of history itself. Terrifying, in part because of the many centuries of indoctrination we have

the ideological veil drawn over the confusion of a particular interest with the general good. They want to put decisions about the ends of science back in the hands of the people. This involves a critique of “green” discourse, which borrows from a long tradition of panic about threats to the purity of nature. Says CAE: “The traditional social pressures regarding what constitutes deviant mixing hold back experimental transgenic research and applications.” (30) Yet the discursive field is a complex one, perhaps more complex than CAE at times allow. Sometimes they write as if they held to a theory of ideology, in which the dominant discourse of the day reflects the interests of the ruling class. Sometimes they write as if they held to a theory of discourse as an (uneven) field of antagonisms, where different social forces struggled to articulate bits of common cultural property in rhetorically advantageous ways. Thus the greens exploit rhetorics of purity that would be anathema to anti-racists; antiracists exploit rhetorics of hybridity that would be anathema to greens. Things are equally

had in the idea that only God or the Gods have the power to mess with the order of things. It is terrifying also in part for more calculating political reasons. Would you trust a company that would sue a farmer in Saskatchewan over a few seeds with the future of our species? CAE caution against too much fascination with science fiction scenarios, and in part they are right to focus on making clear tactical choices in the here and now. Yet one needs to know what the stakes may potentially be in the struggle over the powers of nature. They are also struggles over the nature of power. Even though genetically modified plants are in practically all American packaged foods, corporate interests have to tippy-toe through the discursive maze of nature and second nature. The doctrine of eugenics—race purity and hierarchy—seemed to provide a rational and scientific Darwinian basis for power in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—and it ended in forced sterilisation and genocide. Thesedays ideologues try to step lightly on the mind. Since science has been partially devalued as an ideology, it has been reinforced with a few Christian themes. DNA is now “God’s Blue-

print.” The Human Genome Project can be construed as the gift of an anonymous “New Eve”—the anonymous donor of the blood from which it was produced. How many times have you heard the statement that human DNA is 99% the same as that of the apes? Or 7% the same as that for yeast? DNA is now figured as a universal text. There’s a certain anxiety prompted by modern biology, which sees only the nebulous clouds of populations where once we thought we saw a pure hierarchy of species, each with its ideal form. The compensation for a loss of a clear hierarchy is that multiplicity is underwritten by a universal code. As CAE write: “Much as religion once defined the human role in the cosmos, science does the same in such a way that the political economy of the day seems to be a part of nature and attuned to its laws and imperatives.” (40) The church validated its own necessity as mediator between Man, God and Nature. Science, as an ideology, does the same. Infused with a bit of mystical universalism, science can once again function as an ideology of progress. But here’s the rub: It is “a working definition of progress that means nothing more than the expansion of capital.” (43) Science, not religion, holds out the promise of redemption, not through renouncing worldly things, but by embracing the commodification of nature. The almost infinite diversity of the genome will be pressed into service for agribusiness monoculture. It’s a particularly depressing prospect in the “underdeveloped” world, where a new kind of info-colonialism arises. “If biotech companies in general are able to make the agricultural classes of developing nations dependent on corporate research, products and knowledge, any possibility of food security for these nations will be out of the question.” (88) The task CAE set for contestational biology is to intervene in this scenario “to direct public resentment, mistrust, suspicion and even hostility in a productive way.” (62) They call for precision in identifying issues. The consolidation of the food chain in corporate hands, the privatisation of biological material as information, the narrowing of research to corporate agendas, the lack of democratic oversight of licensing decisions for trans-geneae organisms might head the list. For 6 years, CAE have developed sophisticated tactics for working in this field. As they see it, “the goal for cultural resistance is to create temporary public space where education and inter-subcultural labour exchange can occur.” (65) Rather than ape the technical special-isation of biological science with hi-tech digital art, their work deals in appropriate technologies and cultural solutions. Ironically, there is a sophisticated critique of the division of labour at work in their championing of amateur knowledge. They return culture to the integrative function in a fragmented world that Schiller proposed for it. As usual, there are thrilling riffs on what kinds of direct engagement with the politics and culture of technology might be suitable— and despite CAE’s worries about science fiction, there’s a sci-fi feel to some of their proposals. I particularly like the idea of releasing mutant flies—not too hard to procure, it seems—as a way of infiltrating biotech facilities without trespassing. The very problem that landed Percy Schmeiser in trouble can be turned to one’s advantage. That would make Seth Brundle smile. 


Jean-Michel Basquiat©: Identity and the Art of (Dis)empowerment Louis Armand When Jean-Michel Basquiat died in 1988 at the age of twenty-seven he had only been painting professionally for seven years, yet the body of work that he left behind was prodigious. In a tribute at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York (Sept 21-Nov 23, 1996) his work was described as “remarkable in its diversity of subject matter, materials and quality.” His greatness lay in his ability to integrate AfricanAmerican culture, the love of music, pop-culture, and the history of jazz into an extraordinary visual language. Basquiat truly raised his voice above the din of the hectic era that was the 1980s. His work exhibits a frenetic and driven need to express and define his role in the larger world, and within the urban multi-ethnic culture of New York.

I have quoted this passage here for a number of reasons. Firstly because it rightfully points to the virtuosity of Basquiat’s performance of as an artist, but also because it qualifies this virtuosity, however naively it may seem, as the virtuosity of an African-American New York artist, whose urban multi-ethnicity is the mark of a chic ‘80s neo-primitivism. In a similar vein, Phoebe Hoban, in her recent and widely distorted biography of Basquiat, A Quick Killing in Art, has described him as “the Jimmi Hendrix of the art world.” While others, like art dealer Larry Gagosian, have exhibited a condescension and less subtle racism that characterised Basquiat’s relationship with many of those in the white-dominated New York art scene. Gagosian’s memory of first meeting Basquiat is quoted in Hoban’s biography: “I was surprised to see a black artist and particularly one that was—you know—with the hair. I was taken back by it, and kind of put off.” In his preface to the catalogue for the 1999 Basquiat retrospective at the Museo Revoltella, in Trieste, Bruno Bischofberger (Basquiat’s Swiss dealer), echoing these ideas, wrote:

while his father was Haitian. Both belonged to the middle class. But whereas Julian Schnabel’s “biopic” suggests that Basquiat sought to conceal his less than underprivileged background—hoping to trade on the popular view of black disempowerment (however real that may be)—the opposite seems to have been more the case. Basquiat himself publicised details of his early life in a piece called Untitled (Biography), 1983, and he was also known to be reluctant to involve himself in black politics, often finding himself estranged from “up town” black artist communities. At the very least Basquiat was ambivalent to the racialising of his art, even if elements of racial politics are accommodated within that art. That Jean-Michel Basquiat was black may be undeniable, but it is questionable that his work belongs to any such category as “black art.” But even if this were the case, we need to ask whether or not there is sufficient critical basis for evaluating Basquiat’s art, and “black art” in general, in this way. In his 1989 Village Voice article, ‘Nobody Loves a Genius Child: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lonesome Flyboy in the

York “street artist,” including him solely under the entry for GRAFFITI, thus denying him either the dignity of a personal entry or credit for a body of work which deeply engages both Western and non-Western traditions of art. Others, like Hal Foster and Rosiland Krauss, simply fail to take Basquiat into account at all. In Foster’s 1996 study, The Return of the Real: the Avant-Garde at the Turn of the Century, Basquiat doesn’t rate a single mention, in spite of the fact that Foster devotes extensive sections of his book to issues such as “commodification” and “primitivism,” and addresses the work of Andy Warhol (with whom Basquiat collaborated and exhibited) at length. The assignation of Basquiat as a Graffiti or street artist doubtless has a lot more to do with racial politics than with art criticism. Basquiat’s work itself exhibits few characteristics of graffiti, and the resemblance is largely based upon the fact that he employed textual elements in his work. More commonly, art commentators have pointed at Basquiat’s early history as a high school drop-out and to his collaboration

Jean-Michel Basquiat achieved his status in art and art history by painting and drawing his work in a chosen “primitive” style which reaches us in an expression of innocence.

All that is lacking here, it seems, is an art historical appraisal of Basquiat’s “primitivism” as the authentic product of the African subconscious transmuted through the experience of the African-American diaspora—in contradistinction to the European anthropological fetishism of the surrealists and the “naive” art brut of post-war painters like Dubuffet, Fautrier and Wols. But despite Basquiat’s own insistence that his work be evaluated in the context of all art, and himself in the context of all artists, commentators have consistently focused upon race, in a manner that insists upon the stereotype of the black artist as a kind of metonym for the “dark continent” itself, recalling all the worst clichés of post-Freudean psychoanalysis, as well as centuries of European racism. A typical example of this can be found in an interview given by Basquiat in 1988 and published in New Art International. The interviewer, Demosthenes Davvetas, addresses Basquiat’s “primitivism” in a way that not only seeks to define the artist within a limited scope, but also challenges the artist’s right of refusal to act out the primitivist role. Questions repeatedly include words and phrases like “graffiti artist,” “totems,” “primitive signs,” “fetishes,” “African roots,” “magical,” “cult,” “child,” “weapon.” At the same time words like “survival” and “recognition” are placed within quotation marks, as if to suggest that, for a black artist, such terms as these must always be qualified. As Davvetas makes clear, many people believed at the time that Basquiat’s success derived mainly from his ability to attract the attention of Andy Warhol, while accounts such as Julian Schnabel’s 1996 film also call into question the “authenticity” of Basquiat’s African-American persona. The “facts” of Basquiat’s life are fairly simple. He was born in Brooklyn in 1960, and lived in New York for most of his life. His mother was of Afro-Puerto Rican descent,

Jean-Michel Basquiat, photograph by William Coupon

Buttermilk of the ‘80s Art Boom,’ Greg Tate argues that: Black visual culture suffers less from a lack of developed artists than from a need for popular criticism, academically supported scholarship, and more adventurous collecting and exhibiting.

When we look at Basquiat’s critical reception, both during his lifetime and since his untimely death in 1988, we can see that Tate’s conclusion is born out. With few exceptions Basquiat’s “primitivism” has become a mark of the faddishness of the art market, of the passing fascination of the white art establishment with a black “genius child,” and of the fickleness of an industry concerned more with celebrity than with enduring talent. Indeed, few contemporary artists have suffered as dramatically from critical re-appraisals as Jean-Michel Basquiat. In reaction to the highly inflated reputations and prices of many ‘eighties’ painters, critics have tended to neglect the artistic achievement of Basquiat, often viewing his work as merely the product of a market boom that established him, during his brief career, as a mascot of art capitalism. Indeed some critics, like Robert Hughes (in his book and PBS television series American Visions), have been so distracted by the conjunction of events (black Latino artist—eighties consumerism) as to be reduced to name-calling, referring to Basquiat as “Jean-Michel Basketcase.” The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists, on the other hand, simply labels Basquiat as a New

with school friend Al Diaz in drawing graffiti slogans and symbols with a Magic Marker on walls in lower Manhattan, signing them with the tag SAMO© (which referred to “same ol’ shit”), with the copyright symbol recalling the typographics of a corporate label. There was nothing innocent in what Basquiat and Diaz were doing—they didn’t plant their street texts just anywhere, but predominantly along the strategic byways of SoHo and the East Village, sometimes even at art openings were they were likely to be seen by influential people. These texts were also tinged with a certain irony if we consider their mercenary role as personal advertisements for the to-be artist Basquiat. Such texts as: “Riding around in Daddy’s limousine with trust fund money” only heighten the ambiguity of Basquiat’s own position later on in relation to the art world establishment. At the same time Basquiat was inventing himself as something of a wild boy figure in the East Village. Inspired by John Cage he played guitar (with a file) and the synthesiser in a noise band called Gray. He worked at odd jobs, sold “junk” jewellery, crashed parties, painted on clothing, and frequented the punk hang-out, the Mud Club, and the new wave Club 57. Always broke, he had done his first paintings on salvaged sheet metal and other materials foraged from trash cans or found abandoned on the sidewalk, including an old refrigerator. His paintings were both childlike and menacing, described as “raw, frenzied assemblages of crudely drawn figures, symbols like

arrows, grids and crowns, and recurring words such as THREAT and EXIT in bold, vibrant colours.” In the summer of 1980, Basquiat participated in the so-called “Times Square Show,” where he displayed a wall covered in spray paint and brushwork. One critic described the installation as combining Willem de Kooning’s Abstract Expressionism with Subway spray art— an observation born-out to a degree in a remark that Basquiat himself made during an interview, describing his subject matter as “Royalty, heroism and the streets.” Regarding the hybridity of Basquiat’s style, the critic John Russell noted in a 1984 review that “Basquiat proceeds by disjunction—that is, by making marks that seem quite unrelated, but that turn out to get on very well together.” Basquiat himself observed: “I get my facts from books, stuff on atomisers, the blues, ethyl alcohol, geese in the Egyptian style ... I put what I like from them in my paintings.” This recalls another “transitional” figure, Robert Rauschenberg, whose combines have also been described as working a seam between Abstract Expressionism and Pop-Art, with elements of Dada, particularly in the use of textual and visual irony. Avowed influences for Basquiat also included the work of Picasso, African masks, children’s art, hip-hop and jazz. The outcome itself has been described as a type of visual syncopation, or “eye rap.” His prolific verbal and visual fragments were painted in a mixture of black and bold, saturated colours. A particular example can be found in a 1983 painting, entitled Savonarola, which has been described as “nothing more or less than a painted fragment of an index.” But despite a casual, often remarked graffiti-like appearance, the picture surface itself is heavily reworked and semantically complex, while also maintaining a strict, underlying compositional discipline. Like Rauschenburg, Basquiat’s adherence to a Cubist grid points to a synthesis of ideas usually held to be mutually exclusive, and which also contradict any straightforward assumptions of spontaneity in Expressionist, or “neo-primitivist” art. In this, Basquiat’s approach to composition is not so far removed from that of Andy Warhol, although Basquiat’s textual and pictorial “quotations” always retained a manual element. He never xeroxed or silk-screened directly from his sources, but interpolated a level of “direct” mediation by the artist which became, to a greater or lesser extent, a signature effect similar to the overprinting and streaking in Warhol’s silkscreened images. Basquiat’s association with Warhol began well before his recognition as an artist. Basquiat had actively sought out Warhol, often leaving graffiti messages at Warhol’s Great Jones Street studio (where Basquiat later became a tenant), and often made abortive efforts to gain entrance to the Warhol Factory. On one occasion in 1979, Basquiat approached Andy Warhol in a SoHo restaurant and persuaded him to buy a one-dollar postcard reproduction of one of his paintings. Two years later Basquiat achieved his first recognition, at a New York/New Wave group show at the Long Island City gallery PS 1. Both Warhol’s friend Harry Geldzahler and his Swiss art dealer Bruno Bischofberger attended the show and were impressed by Basquiat’s work. Geldzahler purchased one of Basquiat’s assemblages—a half door covered with layers of torn posters and scribblings—and later taped an interview with the artist for Warhol’s Interview magazine. With Geldzahler’s support, and that of Bruno Bischofberger (who became his European representative), Basquiat eventually gained access to the Warhol Factory from which he initially had been barred. For many of Basquiat’s detractors, this was a moment of supreme opportunism on Basquiat’s part, and there have been widely conflicting reports as to the actual nature of Basquiat and Warhol’s relationship. While Basquiat has been credited with having provoked a positive shift in Warhol’s image—from Brooks Brothers shirts and ties to leather jackets, sunglasses and black jeans— Warhol was seen as a corrupting influence, seducing the young “barrio naif” into the habits of art world capitalism and superficial glamour. Basquiat became a target for intense sar-

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casm in his “trademark” paint-spattered Amarni suits and bare feet—an image which persisted, and which in the minds of some critics symbolised a new form of “blacksploitation.” There is no doubt that such criticisms were fuelled by the fact that Basquiat was the first black American artist to achieve international fame. In 1995, the February 10 issue of The New York Times Magazine featured Lizzie Himmel’s photographic portrait of Basquiat on its front cover, along with the trailer: “New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist.” According to cultural theorist Dick Hedbidge, the cover image portrayed Basquiat as “the Dalai Lama of late twentieth-century painting—a poor boy plucked from obscurity by the priests and whisked off to the palace. Here was a Messiah for painting suited to the New World of the eighties: a Picasso in blackface.” An ethnographic curiosity, or a designer label—either way the art itself is more often than not concealed beneath the competing interpretations that circulate about Basquiat as a figure. As Richard Marshall comments in his essay ‘Repelling Ghosts,’ “Jean-Michel Basquiat first became famous for his art, then he became famous for being famous, then he became famous for being infamous—a succession of reputations that often overshadowed the seriousness and significance of the art he produced.” One difficulty in appraising the significance of Basquiat’s art, however, owes to the fact that a large number of his paintings have never been seen by the public. Marshall, in curating the 1993 Basquiat retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan, drew attention to this problem, pointing out that much of Basquiat’s prolific output has neither been exhibited nor documented (one third of the paintings at the Whitney retrospective were on show for the first time). This in itself can be seen as symptomatic of the virtually insatiable demand by art investors during what many have described as the “decade of greed,” and of the consequent overproduction prompted by dealers seeking to supply this demand. A direct outcome of this was not only that artists could be expected to produce a certain quantity of indifferent work, but also that works of art often never went before the public at all, passing instead directly from the studio into private collections. Rene Ricard, who first encountered Basquiat’s paintings and drawing in various sublets in New York’s East Village (an encounter made famous in Julian Schnabel’s 1996 film), and whose 1981 article in Artforum brought critical attention to Basquiat, described the scene during Basquiat’s first year working from the basement of Annina Nosei’s gallery: Jean’s output was tremendous and never satisfied the demand ... pictures would be purchased after the first hit with paint, even though his method was to rework with several layers of paint. The rather extraordinary ladies, and occasional men, whom his dealer brought to the studio would leave with as many unfinished canvases as they and their drivers could carry. His dealer’s advice to clients ... seems to have led Jean-Michel to large canvases of big heads with no words. He produced an amazing number and left them, barely worked up, leaning on the walls, so the carriage trade could pick them up and leave without bothering him.

According to Ricard, the words and phrases Basquiat habitually worked into his paintings bothered the collectors, just as later on his use of silk screens would bother dealers like Bischofberger who felt they detracted from his “intuitive primitivism.” Ironically enough it was Basquiat’s inclusion of textual elements and multiple xeroxed images that comprised his most recognisable “trademark.” In his earliest paintings, such as Crowns (Peso Neto) (1981), Basquiat had used collage to achieve a surface texture of word fragments and “ruined” serial images (here, the “crowns” which re-emerge throughout Basquiat’s œuvre). Elsewhere Basquiat introduced trademark and copyright symbols, contributing to his socalled “graffiti” texts a critical/satirical edge that may have disconcerted some of his early society patrons. In one of his compositions from 1981, enti-

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tled TAR TOWN©, there appears the words: JIMMY BEST ON HIS BACK TO THE SUCKERPUNCH OF HIS CHILDHOOD FILES. In Basquiat’s case, it was enough that the “childhood files” be taken to refer to his black and Latino ancestry—a mark that remained constantly against his name. In the end, the sucker punch came from both directions: from the art establishment who wanted to buy a piece of his “intuitive primitivism,” and from the critics who dismissed him as a kind of art world golliwog. Basquiat’s work is constantly aware of this double-bind linking the black artist to a form of racist commodity fetishism, and there is something veritably portentous about TAR TOWN© which finds an echo elsewhere in paintings like St. Joe Louis Surrounded by Snakes (1982) and Untitled (Defacement) (1983). This latter painting in particular serves as a reminder of Basquiat’s precarious situation, not only within the American art industry, but within American society at large. The

at Christie’s spring auction another painting, which had originally sold for $4,000, came in at $20, 900. Basquiat’s tempestuous relationship with dealers has been well documented. Difficulties arising from exhibitions and sales led him from one gallery to another, signing with four New York dealers in succession within the space of seven years: Annina Nosei, Mary Boone, Tony Shafrazi and Vrej Baghoomian. Considered by some as caprice, these moves often accompanied a need on the artist’s part for creative freedom. In 1982, Basquiat’s move away from Annina Nosei’s gallery basement to a loft on Prince Street allowed him to escape the “art-feeding frenzy of invasive collectors” (as Ricard puts it), in order to concentrate on developing his work. Importantly it was at this time that Basquiat participated in an exhibition at the Fun Gallery, an independent gallery in New York—one of the causes of his break with Annina Nosei (another cause was that Nosei

(PETROLEUM, COTTON, GOLD, SALT, TOBACCO, ALCOHOL, HEROIN), and references to racism, oppression and genocide (SLAVE SHIPS, DARK CONTINENT, NEGROES, HARLEM, GHETTO, MISSIONARIES, CORTEZ, DER FUHRER, VASCO DA GAMA). Inevitably, it seems, these subjects became less and less distinguishable from the autobiographical elements Basquiat worked into his paintings. Success for Basquiat was always fraught with contradictions, and the politics it engendered ultimately interfered, detrimentally, in many of his relationships, most notably with Andy Warhol. In 1994 Bischofberger commissioned a three-way collaboration between Warhol, Basquiat, and the Italian Francesco Clemente. After this initial collaboration, Warhol and Basquiat continued to work together. A series of large canvases were based on a New York Post headline, PLUG PULLED ON COMA MOM, and the Paramount Studios mountaintop logo. The collaboration between Basquiat and Warhol has been viewed with both scepticism and enthusiasm by different sectors of the art world. The effect of the collaboration upon the artists themselves has also been reported in accounts that widely contradict each other. In the eyes of many, Basquiat was seen as dominating Warhol, while others saw Basquiat as the victim of Warhol’s art-predatory instinct. Reports also vary as to what led Basquiat and Warhol’s relationship to break down. Warhol, who represented for Basquiat a type of “Good White Father,” played various roles in Basquiat’s life, from landlord to collaborator, antagonist and life-support. Their relationship gave rise, from the outset, to much discussion of white patronage of black art. Others, however, saw the relationship as mutually opportunistic, an accusation which has been seen by some as having caused a rift after their 1995 collaborative exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery elicited scathing reviews, two of which (by Vivien Raynor and Eleanor Heartney) are worth quoting: Last year, I wrote of Jean-Michel Basquiat that he had a chance of becoming a very good painter providing he didn’t succumb to the forces that would make him an art world mascot. This year, it appears that those forces have prevailed ... Having presided over our era for considerably more than his requisite fifteen minutes, Andy Warhol keeps his star in ascendancy by tacking it to the rising comets of the moment ...

Basquiat, Untitled, 1984

painting is of two white comic-strip police officers beating a black (Christ) figure with the word DEFACEMENT©? written above. It was painted soon after the murder of the black “graffiti artist” Michael Stewart by transit police in the 14th Street L subway station. As Basquiat saw it, it could just as well have been him. There is another side, however, to the depictions of violence and racial subjugation that form visible subtexts in Basquiat’s paintings. In Irony of Negro Policeman (1981), Basquiat focuses on one of the ways in which authority (here, the law) co-opts those who also symbolise the objects of its abuse. This irony is one that has been applied to the situation of Basquiat himself in relation to a white-dominated art industry. Successively deemed victim and collaborator, Basquiat has often been thought of as both naive and opportunistic. According to Mary Boone, a New York dealer famous for receiving more publicity than her artists, Basquiat was “too concerned with what the public, collectors and critics thought ... too concerned about prices and money.” Coincidently it was Basquiat’s exhibition at the Mary Boone Gallery, in May 1984 (his fist solo exhibition), which saw him rise to prominence in the international art scene, and saw his paintings sell for between $10,000 and $20,000. In that same month a Basquiat self-portrait was included in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, while

had objected to a series of stretcher frames designed for Basquiat by his assistant, Steve Torton, which left twined cross-beams at each corner of the canvas exposed, creating an effect that was both idiosyncratic and arresting, and broke with the clean, packaged look of commercial gallery art). Notably, his work at the Fun Gallery was also drastically underpriced, thereby providing a direct counterargument to those who, like Boone, insisted that artistic values were secondary in Basquiat’s mind to the acquisition of wealth and fame. The fact of Basquiat’s success, however, was always going to embroil him in controversy, particularly as money began to equate to a growing sense of independence from the art world establishment. The problem of success (as a non-white) was also a constant theme in Basquiat’s paintings. His subjects ranged from historical black figures like Malcolm X, Langston Hughes and Marcus Garvey, to black athletes, boxers and musicians, including Hank Aaron, Jesse Owens, Sugar Ray Robinson, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. And throughout his work there are textual references to money, value, authenticity and ownership (REGISTERED TRADE MARK, ©, ESTIMATED VALUE, ONE CENT, DOLLAR BILL, ANDREW JACKSON, TAX FREE, PESO NETO, 100%, NOTARY), as well as to trade, commerce and consumption

According to Paige Powell and other friends of the artists, however, the break-up between Basquiat and Warhol began earlier, when Basquiat read a review in the New York Times by the critic John Russell about his second exhibition at the Mary Boone Gallery. Russell had suggested that Basquiat had become too obviously influenced by Warhol, and this prompted Basquiat to try to distance himself from the Warhol Factory. Likewise, Victor Bockris in his recent biography of Warhol suggests that by September 1985, when their show of collaborations opened at the Tony Shafrazi gallery, the Warhol-Basquiat relationship had already disintegrated to the extent that neither man spoke to the other at the opening and Basquiat did not even bother to attend that night’s dinner party. The following day he called at the Factory, wanting to know what the exact dimensions were for the Great Jones Street loft, to make sure that Warhol, his landlord, was not overcharging him on rent. The negative reaction by critics to the Warhol-Basquiat show, coupled with the intense speculation surrounding the two artists’ relationship, has tended to overshadow the actual work that the collaboration produced, as well as the impact it had on the development of the individual artists’ later work. What has been most overlooked by the critics is the significant stylistic influence Warhol and Basquiat had upon each other. For instance, during the second of their collaborations in 1984, which eventually furnished the exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Warhol, for the first time since his Pop paintings of the early sixties, put aside silk


screens and returned to the straightforward method of hand painting from enlarged newspaper headlines and advertisements. Warhol seems to have responded well to Basquiat’s influence, and even after their relationship had come to an end insisted that their collaborative work had been good, better in fact than much of the work he himself had produced later on. [It has even been suggested that, apart from the deluxe editions of prints produced under his direction at the Factory, Warhol’s remaining work up until his death seemed to have been painted as if in anticipation of his absent collaborator.] At the same time Basquiat exchanged his own technique of colour xeroxing for the use of commercial silk screens, enacting something of a role reversal in the process. Of particular interest is how this development in Basquiat’s technique, arising directly from his collaboration with Warhol, advanced his own critical interest in questions of authenticity, ownership, and the originality of the copy and copyright (something which also has implications for the view of his work as neo-expressionist, gestural or intuitively primitivistic). Similarly, the movement within Basquiat’s paintings from pictorial narrative to oblique linguistic references exceeds the view that, as an elevated street artist, his work was simply graffiti hung in a gallery space. On the contrary, the pictorial references in Basquiat’s paintings link him to an entire tradition within Western art, from Classical and Renaissance models (compare, for instance, Leonardo da Vinci’s Allegorical Composition with Basquiat’s Riding With Death (1988)), to more contemporary ones, including Robert Rauschenberg’s “combines,” Warhol’s serial images, Jean Dubuffet’s urban primitivism, and Cy Twombly’s “graffito” drawings. Moreover, the linguistic elements in Basquiat’s paintings not only engage the work in a wide-ranging dialogue with historical and cultural discourses, but also render, with compelling poetic economy, a critique of those discourses. Borrowing elements of everyday language (brand names, trade marks, consumer clichés, political and racial slogans, etc.), Basquiat created juxtapositions that reveal latent power structures, whose realignment in turn produces ironies suggesting a fundamental arbitrariness within the institutions of social discourse. At once absurd and menacing, this sense of the arbitrary nevertheless remains attached to an idea of the exercise of power and to a critical notion of historical arbitration. In Untitled (Rinso) a classic racist metaphor is exposed in the form of a reference to a popular washing powder. The words NEW RINSO©, appearing above and beside three stylised renderings of Negroes, seem to point towards the word SLOGAN© in the centre of the painting, which in turn gives on to an actual slogan—1950 RINSO: THE GREATEST DEVELOPMENT IN SOAP HISTORY—with an arrow pointing to the words WHITEWASHING ACTION at the bottom of the canvas. In case the viewer misses the implications of this text, or the possible references to the violence of the 1950s civil rights movements, the words NO SUH, NO SUH written on the left of the painting serve to lessen any ambiguity. In Native Carrying Some Guns, Bibles, Amorites on Safari, the theme of black labour at the service of its own exploitation is depicted by the image of a stylised Negro carrying a crate above his head (with the words ROYAL SALT INC© written across the front of it), standing beside a gun-toting “bwana” in a penile safari hat. Basquiat further ironises this depiction in the accompanying (capitalised) text: COLONIZATION: PART TWO IN A SERIES and GOOD MONEY IN SAVAGES. A reference to animal skins is made ambiguous in the rendering of $KIN$, which suggests that the “animals” being hunted/exploited by the POACHERS/MISSIONARIES are black. In Untitled (1984), this theme is again explored, although with greater poetic economy. In this painting the God of the MISSIONARIES has become SUN GOD/TRICKSTER, while the painting itself seems structured around the words GLOBAL INDUSTRIAL, substituting it would seem for an ‘earthly paradise’ which has become simply an open mine for industrial exploitation. At the top left of

the painting, above an image of a native woman giving birth, is the slogan ABORIGINAL GENERATIVE©. The copyright symbol here serves to ironise the exploitative ‘ownership’ of both indigenous peoples and natural resources by colonial powers and Western capital, including the very process of generation. Elsewhere Basquiat’s economy is more sparse. In one of the fourteen drawings collected as Untitled (1981), the single word MILK© appears. As Rene Ricard explains, “The political implications here are intense with a comic nightmare of greed: the patent on milk!” In a later painting, entitled Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta (1993)—referring to Jack Kerouac’s fictional portrait of Louis Armstrong, Basquiat includes the text “The ‘Cow’ is a registered trademark®,” which serves to amplify the irony. Perhaps we are invited to think of a “cash cow,” or of the “sacred cows” of the art world. Perhaps, also, we are invited to think of milk as the “food of innocence.” But then milk is

Family Travis Jeppesen I went into the kitchen to cut my arm off. Vision responded, No! No! Vision is a dirty whore with long sideburns. Also my lifelong companion, my pet dog. This trashy piece of shit regurgitated its supper onto my elbow. I was just resting on the sidelines in order to finish up my incest game of watching. A girl walked into the room. That girl was so bad. I think she ended up being crazy for no reason. But I taught her a lesson all the same. Vision drank half a bottle of vermouth and lay himself out on the floor. There was much sweat, way too much for me to lick up. But I needed to be drunk as well. I had never before survived such a tenuous, concentrated operation, and I didn’t really want to survive this one, either. But I already knew I had, even before it began. The girl’s harsh mouth opened around the end of the exhaust pipe, and she inhaled thickly, blowing out the planet’s smoky waste in

Basquiat, Natives Carrying Some Guns,Bibles, Amorites on Safari, 1982

Basquiat, Natives Carrying Some Guns, Bibles, Amorites on Safari, 1982

also white, and innocence, in Basquiat’s terms, is a white© concept. Not to play the role of noble savage or idiot savant could only reveal, to the art establishment, Basquiat’s “black” sin—a daring to assume the position of successful American artist usually reserved for whites. “Innocence,” as Basquiat’s reference to the SUN GOD/TRICKSTER implies, is merely a state of being willingly duped by the missionaries of Western capital. Basquiat refused this role, even if at times he could be said to have exploited it. He was resented for his success, trivialised and slandered by critics. He sought fame, and like many who have achieved it, he found himself isolated in an often hostile and unpredictable environment. He was black, young, a former hustler and a heroin addict. To many, Basquiat was merely a stereotype, almost a parody. For some he proved an old saying: “die young and leave a beautiful corpse.” It would not be inappropriate to imagine the word corpse, here, to be spelt with a copyright symbol. In death, as in life, Basquiat has become a commodity. A cash corpse. The ironic evasions and counter-evasions of his work now eclipsed by this final, perhaps inevitable, irony. 

between the yellow of her rotten frown. Vision commented on the steady decline of her teeth— how that was then, this was now—and choked on a sigh. I couldn’t even begin to comment on this state of affairs. There were way too many people in that room, and even fewer teeth. Vision told me how I think I know everything, and yet this was not true. I don’t know. I think. But I wasn’t persistent because I didn’t feel like arguing. I never know the truth, even when it’s shooting me in the face. In those days, I would settle upon more abstract forms of acceptance. Such as keeping my guard down low or hunting. I walked into the backyard to yell at the homeless person who was rummaging through my trash. The girl, meanwhile, was grinning. The thin smoke that was pouring through the air started to die away along with my rugged sole so I kept one shoe on to balance things out. I thought back upon better days when it was all better, when we all stood on the edge of the earth. Vision thinks on better days as well, but where I see octagons and pills of bitterness, Vision only sees the rallies, the well. She once lived in wetness, until it burned her thighs. Now, then, her capabilities were limited to just sitting there, staring into silence. Truth be told, she was a marvellous caretaker. But in order for such duties to be entertained, there must be other teeth present in the same room—teeth with

needs, teeth with wills. The girl lacked awareness. The smallness of the scene was too complex. So she was content to sit there, drawing out a mindful blank. Outside, the sun was beginning its long-winded descent. We were forced into pretending this had an effect on us in all our nebulant longing. We were just like the rest of the world, only our duties could be performed with filth leaking down the sides of our heads. She looked down to see what she was tripping over. It was then we simultaneously realized that Vision was dead. Knowing glances crashed. Too much violence creeping down a five minute span. The answer was alienation. She excused herself from the call of duty and dragged Vision’s limp body into the kitchen with the floor screeching beneath him as he went along. Noises like that never thrill me, as they sometimes do others. I wanted more wishes, more deaths to go along … She had never betrothed herself to me. I knew her ways well. They were subtle. So subtle, in fact, they were loud. She asked me what I thought about Vision’s dead bod. Nice, I responded. Anger happened (?) She buried it along with Vision in a deep hole in the backyard where the bum continued to rummage, ignoring my former plea, seemingly oblivious to all. The hours found us sitting in the room. As if those other moments never occurred. They hadn’t. The only difference was the presence of the bum, who had taken Vision’s place. Like the drunk dog he was, we killed him (the bum). She didn’t have enough energy to go dig another hole, and I never had any energy to begin with, so we took him out back and dumped his corpse in the trash. I thought briefly of how this whole bum occurrence seemed to have drifted into a circular pattern—life found in the trash, ending in the trash—and then I ignored myself altogether. I wasn’t even aware of what was happening when the girl spat into my ear. I stared at her and then she stared into the air. I stared at her staring. It was once again the two of us in this crowded room. I wanted another house, another beginning. Another room. But by then, I had given up on trying to imagine what another face might be like. I could feel her tentacles on my armpit once more. She stood up quietly and began walking towards the other side of the room. I walked into the kitchen one more time. Hunger is like a silver red car that is driving on the planet upside down. It will fall off, but it always inevitably lands on the spider’s fat breast of airwaves. I remembered things, like how my mother was a heroin addict. God’s heavy whistle blows. Like a mesmerized enchantress, I walked down that hallway. The ghosts reached their hands out in order to finger my lengthy gowns, but rigid denial was all I had to offer that summer. Real ghosts live in the graveyard. I knew that then like I know it now. I had visited with the dead’s voices on more than one occasion. Having spent all day seeking out my father’s tomb, I came to know that the ends of this earth were inside me. The girl’s fingers lay on my skin. Her fingernails felt like the ends of pipecleaners on my back. Mother, I cried, why are you wearing those antennas on your head? After having squirted all that blood from my deflated organ, I looked into the mirror to see what I would look like with one arm chopped off. My penis was missing. 

23


Letter From Upcountry Quebec Adrian Hornsby Tom says Spring here happens in a single day. He says it all comes at a bound. April is worst, after snow thaws and there’s only cold mud as far as you’d care to look and the trees are ugly too. But then you see grass, in a thin meek nap, and then everything bounding out blossoms and blooms he is smiling. But Fall Tom says, Fall is lingering. Everything—nature reality Kosmos— everything is sacred, the Unitarian minister says. He says all religions and terms for Gods are metaphors we make out of the world we live in and we do this because we feel that it is holy. Nature gives us this sensation of knowledge of holy. Ninety per cent, ninety per cent of communities that develop horticulture form theologies of Earth Goddesses to envision somehow what is happening with nature and growth. Ninety-three per cent upon discovery of mathematics and ploughs move to versions of a male God who is strong and commands the earth. What we are now he says is the universe after thirteen point seven billion years contemplating itself. The sciences are atoms of hydrogen gas which expanded and imploded and complexified and expanded and have now come to thinking about their own behaviour. He makes an analogy. Cancer is cells which have lost their ability to read their DNA and without this understanding of their own genetic history do terrible things. We, as we forget our own scientific and evolutionary history and the whole thirteen point seven billion years of super novas and black holes and the concourse of stardust falling into life, we mutate against our makeup. God Yahweh Shiva Allah whatever you call it reality—nature—the matter, of which we are made up, and the way in which it behaves, forming rosebushes and rolling oceans from infinite vasts of debris, this is the big miracle: our world. Pat says she didn’t like the visiting minister’s sermon. She says him bounding about with that fine voice of his and theatrical style made her feel she was being manipulated. All that emotionality, all that stirring. Pat plays the piano in the Unitarian Universalist Church of North Hatley where the visiting minister had come to visit. She plays brokenly with handknots of rheumatoid arthritis. But his message was one with which all Unitarians could agree says Tom. Not all Pat says: here’s one that doesn’t, and she raises a glass of

Tequila to herself, and tips. Jon says Pat has been an alcoholic for as many years as the falling stardust gave him eyes to see, and probably long before that too. She is never drunk her house is immaculate and her husband loves her dearly. She just happens to be sipping Tequila while the rest of us are still on coffee. Jon says he misses his siblings. I miss my siblings, he says, I like my cousins but I miss my siblings—Canadian Thanksgiving isn’t the same without them. When he was younger Jon and his siblings would come up here to camp in the woods in summer, and then when he was older with friends and girlfriends and the woodlands of his childhood were suffused with romance. Did you come up here with Anna I ask. Many times he says, and smiles, and misses his childhood more, and looks at his drink. There is a lull in conversation around our group and Ania walks by and laughs wickedly and walks on. Ania has become quite plump says Tom. She was always going to says Pat, you’d see her as a child and always something to eat in her hand. Yes she has been eating says Jack. Rubenesque I say. Yes he did like his women round and rolly says Tom with big boobs and— but Ania has small boobs says Pat. She has small boobs like me but with a plump belly like her mother. Who are they talking about? asks Amanda. Their granddaughter says Jon. And big bums says Margery he liked them with big bums. I like Ania she is wicked. The others here are not wicked. They are mild as the maple leaves. Tom’s sons are all honest tradesmen: a carpenter a baker a cook and so on right down to the seventh, who is Colin who became a lawyer. He is now thinking of moving into politics. Colin Byrd—you can watch for that name in the Montreal Mirror. He has a lovely benign intelligence and is tempted by good. Tom tells a story about taking his children sledding and how on this long old run they were all bumping down and wiping out everywhere save for Colin who was small and light enough to hold course. But his face, oh he was so serious and when he got to the bottom he’d turn around and go right back up. This summer when Tom and Pat went to Newfoundland to see their daughter, Colin and Nils rebuilt the shed for them and threw out everything keeping only Colin’s sled. I wish they hadn’t thrown out so much says Pat. But it was his sled says Tom. Harry is the carpenter. While Colin and Nils

were raising stardust from the shed he built the addition we are all sitting in. Earlier he had built the bridge over the beaver dam and the little road beyond and the house at its end and a shop for his tools and a well for his water. It is the best well in the area with 4000 gallons an hour and ice-cold all summer long. I should really bottle some he says, and maybe he should. There is a new man on the neighbouring property who was after building a well, and so he dowsed and picked a spot and logged a path and dowsed again but the second time he got no response. That was when he came over to see Harry—he wanted to test his dowsing rods. So they went to the line on the road where it crinkles because, Harry thinks, there is an underground water-vein which freezes in winter and buckles the asphalt. They got a strong signal. And then they went up to where Harry has his well and within five feet the thing was twitching and by two it almost wrestled itself out of his hands. The instrument consists of two metal rods the length and weight of knitting needles which are crossed and bound together with a piece of wire. Then you hold it splayed out and sprung with the tension on your forearms and you go near Harry’s well and it will start shocking and writhing until you either back off or have it snap across your face. Yahweh Yahweh wonder of the stardust sway. Traditionally you use a fork of green wood. The new man decided to drill anyway as he had logged his path and hired his man and went on through three hundred dry feet of rock before giving up. He is now proud possessor of an eight thousand dollar hole. Harry tells me about springs in the lake behind the beaver dam. He asks me if I have swum there, which I have, and if I’d noticed sudden stems of witch-cold water, which I had. Those are the springs he says. One time when the lake froze over you could see by the specific bossellated knolls of ice where the springs come up and sculpt a freeze-pattern. I wish I’d drawn it out on graph paper Harry says, and then in summer I could plot a swim route through the warmer stills. I swim in the lake again today. Yesterday I boated out to the tethered raft in the middle and spent the afternoon prone. Cerulean sky above and the trees fingered by autumn. The water-surface is so sheet I can count their leaves in it, then send welts across with my oar and watch all holy reality wobble and break. There is a chronically empty beauty to

this landscape. There are amusing and pleasant ways to become seventy-three. Last night I go for a walk in the full moon clean sky din of silence and it is brighter than my mind. I walk along a logging path to its cliff’s edge and stand and in all that humpbacked vault of land and there isn’t one human light. Just trees, ridges dying into mist and a slate of incandescent water. So I throw a rock and hear the splash come then go. Today I swim in the lake again and determine to swim across it even though I can feel it is too cold and far and it is a conscious thing to make my body set out. By half way I can feel the strokes shortening and as I come into one of the dark resting springs the strength rips away from my body. Literally rips. I am swimming but my head starts to go under between strokes—it ceases to come up for long enough to clear my eyes, and my lungs are taking in water. I am sinking among the tips of upsidedown trees. I turn onto my back and sculling acquire what I think may be another minute. I watch the sky and think two things only: embarrassment towards Tom and his family that I may drown in his lake, and the serenely non-marvellous act of a naked man disappearing into cold water. I count, and watch, and on forty-seven feel pondweed brush against my leg. I turn and stand. I am horrifically exhausted. When I arrive among the bullrushes I have no sensation in my feet— I walk round to my clothes as though upon wooden stumps with a cognisance of indeterminable pain. When I arrive and dress I try to light a cigarette but find that my hand is shaking too much and puts out the match. In two hours time I will recognise a discomfort and taking off my shoe will prize a small rock from my foot, from the crease between ball and flat. I lever it out with my fingernail, then feel the inside of the hole, and its crenelated edge. By now I have started the drive back to New York City—I am in a service station. I feel heavy, and waterlogged, and empty. Musa says I have a death-wish. Musa says I have this terrible death-wish and that is why I cannot care properly about my relationships with other people; herself included no doubt. The minister says it’s all that stardust making us feeling so holy. Tom says he lights candles every Thanksgiving Sunday, because his house is full and he loves his family. I put on my shoe. Billie Holiday sings; she sings I hate to see the evening sun go down. 15 October 2003

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PLR vol.1, no.5 (November, 2003)