Sunday, February 28, 2010

Poetry as “Global Positioning System:” Peter Metres Review of Landscapes of Dissent

From the Peter Metres REVIEW of Landscapes of Dissent, Guerrilla Poetry & Public Space Jules Boykoff and Kaia Sand.
(Palm Press, 2008).

Landscape’s particular intervention into this conversation is to establish first a theoretical framework, using theories of geography and public space, by which to valorize the work of what they call “guerrilla poets” — poets operating on the edges of (or against) the law, whose page is public space itself, and whose readership is anyone who traverses those spaces. In contrast to Jurgen Habermas’ idealized notion of the “public sphere,” Landscape co-authors Jules Boykoff and Kaia Sand — both notable poets themselves, both on and off the page — note the criticism of a public sphere “rooted in reconciliation and unity which surreptitiously blunts the sharp edges of difference and inequality” (14) and embrace Nancy Fraser’s notion of “subaltern counterpublics” (14). Amid the thicket of laws that govern and curtail free expression, guerrilla poets negotiate ways to appropriate public space from strictly commercial or privatized interests, and attempt to render visible “the sharp edges of difference and inequality.”

A Poetics in Time and Place: Jules Boykoff and Kaia Sand at the Wooden Shoe

I went to a READING Friday at The Wooden Shoe (for more than 30 years, a collectively run anarchist bookstore, now in relatively new space on South Street): two Other-Coast poets, Kaia Sand and Jules Boykoff.  What they read weren't stand-alone poems, but excerts from books—diverse compilations using a variety of forms composed as a single work. In each case, the structure straddled the margins of the text, an exoskeleton of references, quotations from media, signs, visual images (photos, drawings)… public references. Poetry as responses to public signifiers which remain visible for the reader—both inside and outside the text. At this reading, projected images on a screen.
Kaia's poem, Remember to Wave, written in the form of a long walk, a circumlocution of a site in Portland, an area once used as a holding center for Japanese-Americans interred in 1942, waiting for transport to detention camps. The walk borders the Columbia River on the north with associations that go back to prehistory. Much of it is now an industrial waste with storage pods and toxic slues. She read this with slides behind her, illustrations included in the book—and a map of the walk we could follow as she read.

Boykoff’s Hegemonic Love Potion, riffs off quotations from public documents, government, media--broadcast and print. For both these poets, the interior structure develops as a reflection and response to references that remain exposed outside the text. I was reminded of CA Conrad and Frank Sherlock’s collaborative work: The City Real and Imagined, where they took walks through the city and wrote about what they found, a conversation with each other and with the places they visited.
An aesthetics that embraces the realia of provocation, allowing for free flights of imagination and reflection while sharing between reader and text, fragments of the real world, stitched and patched together–resisting the temptation to assimilate those references altogether into the text, refusing to digest and erase them in an idealist poetical miasma. A poetry (and poetics) that is at once, collage, assemblage, lyrical response, and critical commentary: where politics and aesthetics are complimentary, not competitive.

I came away with a sharpened sense of a Poetics in (not ‘of) Space and Time, a feeling of deep pleasure—for all that’s wrong with this world—to be living among such poets and such poetry—and grateful to have wakened within me a joyful lust to get on with the seriously playful work of making poems.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Reading Notes: The Kindly Ones (1-4)

Reading Notes: The Kindly Ones (1)
Progress slow on The Kindly Ones. Haven't had enough reading time. Read for about 3 hours last night. The scene with the ancient Jewish scholar lifted the narrative to a new level for me. That almost mythical and nakedly fictive element transformed the astonishing abundance of seeming historical detail that surrounds it--in that long period between actions--from what some reviewers have read as the realia of a genre historical novel--to different plane. A touch of genius not to be missed: the world, the fictive Weltanshauung is not that of the self-absorbed bureaucratic narrator but the uncanny reality he's unable to account for even as he recognizes it at a distance... in snatches of Bach, the beauty of the natural world, his view of the Caucasus from the chosen burial site of the Ancient One, and no less, and far more ominous--in the senseless slaughter of which is in no way the mere 'observer' he describes to others... what a marvelous play on vision in that scene, Aue entranced by the scene of the distant mountains--now, for the reader, thanks to those long discursive lectures on linguistics and history fading into legend from Vos, haunted by the shadows of countless waves of occupiers and settlers... again, blending into a mythical past, while the Ancient Jew sees everything Aue is blind to. From these 50-100 pages alone I'd would question Daniel Green's reservations on Littell's use of the Orestes cycle (in his wonderful review HERE (see also Daniel Mendelshon's excellent REVIEW in the NYRB)
Seems to me this is a useful guide to how this book should be read. I was made to think of Arjuna in the Bagavadgita here, Krishna's reconciling Arjuna to the horrors of war. I've begun to think that those reviewers who were appalled at what they took as an overly sympathetic view of the Nazi atrocities were right in their being dead wrong--or wrong in their being right. The field of action viewed through the peephole of Aue's consciousness is governed by a far more capacious consciousness... if one can even call it 'consciousness.' The Erinyes come to be called (with no little irony, the Eumenides, the Kindly Ones, only through the intervention of Apollo as he defends Orestes for the murder of Clytomnestra... "Kindly" because some restoration of civil order (however unstable... as Aeschylus' audience must have keenly felt), over the eruption of ancient blood feud notions of 'justice.' The 'blessing' of the Bhagavadgita is, indeed, a terrible one. It does not save Arjuna or humankind from the horrors of war--rather, it lifts Arjuna into a vision beyond the human, a blessed indifference. Is this where Aue is heading, and where the arch narrator is taking the reader? To a god's eye view beyond all questions of agency and judgment? As Ghandi understood the Gita, this 'beyondness' does not relieve the visionary from responsibility, no more than Buddah's enlightenment relieved him from service and compassion. Aue is no latent buddisatva, but the terrifying vision being laid out in Littell's novel--a vision of the worst of human atrocities as though from a vantage so removed from questions of judgment and agency-- is akin to the paradoxical blessing of the Gita, and the nature of the peace restored by Apollo at the end of the Oresteian cycle. The Kindly Ones does not offer religious consolation; that is not in the power of novelist or artist to give; instead we must content ourselves with an aesthetic vision... and now and then, we are given one that still shimmers with a remnant of the old power of the gods we had thought to have left behind.

verbivore said... I'm really interested in this book, but I haven't had the guts to read it. I'm curious about it, as a writer, and wary of it as a reader. If I can reconcile those two feelings, I'll get a copy and dig in. Your thoughts here are useful, I'm assuming there is alot going on in terms of intertextuality...
February 11, 2010 8:42 AM Steven Augustine said... That scene (including the detail of the philtrum-less lip) is, indeed, a mystico-literary wonder, Comrade Jacob
February 12, 2010 3:45 AM

Reading Notes: The Kindly Ones: (2)
I wanted to raise one question to the comment I left above on Dan Green's Review (those comments quoted below, with some additions). I'm only a little more than half through, so can't say more yet, but the character of Thomas deserves attention. He plays a role at times as something close to a doppelgänger, an enabling shadow figure who again and again rescues Aue, while chiding him for his nativity--as someone who, for all his considerable powers of observation and intelligence, is not entirely of this world. When Aue arrives in Stalingrad, Thomas reminds him that he has warned him before to be careful about his relations--his homosexual encounters--though Aue has not reported that he's confessed to Thomas on these matters. Thomas seems, not only to have an uncanny ability to show up at critical moments, but seems to know more about Aue than can be readily accounted for in their reported conversations. I'm not sure how to read the hallucination of Thomas' death: was Aue hallucinating Thomas' mortal injury--or is Thomas himself the hallucination? What happened to the scarf Aue gave Thomas to bind his wound? Then there is the speech Aue attends where he sees Hitler in a tallit with tiffilin and even the fringes of a tallit katan, this after a fantasised memory when, as a youth, her first saw Hitler, and imagines (had he lived) his father beside him--or even in place of Hitler himself. The vision is repeated when watches the speech in a theater and wonders if a "third eye" has open since his wound. Again, I have the impression of Aue's POV as through a pin point aperture casting an image in a camera obscura (an image Littell used much earlier in the novel), while behind or over him, a dimly perceived parallel world that seems to be guiding his fate. Again, we are not reading anything close to 'realist historical fiction' with this novel. More like a monstrous fable--the darkest of tales from the brothers Grimm, one that is not a representation of historical reality, but an endlessly suggestive fictive parallel.

I think one could make a case for the arch-narrator putting Aue through his paces being just that: a seceond-level narrative consciousness, a fictive consciousness, without having to leap out of the novel and see in this the naked voice of the author. The Oresteian mythical overlay is the vehicle for that consciousness, one that Aue himself evokes. Maybe consciousness is the wrong word... as from Aue, it looms more as an Uberweltenschauung vitiating his political beliefs, while at the same time, depriving him of the possibility of imagining anything else, confirming his fatalism and leaving him unable to respond, time after time, with anything but anger and aesthetic disgust to what he clearly recognizes as injustice.

Dan, in the reviews you've read, has anyone commented on his injury? The oddity of his post-war life as an industrial lace maker( and married!) fits this pattern well: that this whole narrative is being told by someone with severe brain damage surely deserves some attention! The character Aue is remembering before he was shot seems rather less robotic in his reactions to the horrors around him... and he takes considerable pains to avoid taking direct action whenever he has a choice--reported without the least hint of self-justification, but I don't see importance of the injury in Aue using it to explain his later actions, which smacks of self-justification that he otherwise avoids--so much as profoundly influencing the whole narrative. Because it's all presented as recollection, this injury is present from the beginning.

Reading Notes: The Kindly Ones (3)

This will be short. I see the advantage of making these notes while one is still reading. No matter how wildly off the mark, ignorance of what is to come will provide sufficient cover for one's embarrassment. Enter Blanchot. This is the third time I've been tempted to stop, go back, and start reading from the beginning. This happened last while reading Proust ... and The Man Without Qualities.
That visit with Una bodes no good for where Max is heading...

Frances Madeson said...

Oh brother, good luck! If Daniel Green answers you, the next magnum of Shiraz is on me! Anyway, I adore you for giving him the monstrous opportunity to publicly ignore you on your own blog. I believe it's a true deprivation for him not to engage with you in just these kinds of discussions, which would be so fascinating and fulfilling for him. I imagine he holds similar conversations in his head even as he keeps upping the ante of his Satyagraha. With all my heart I believe in him, in his prevailing, and the momentary respite from questioning that will bring.
February 13, 2010 10:07 AM
Jacob Russell said...
This post has been removed by the author.
February 13, 2010 11:01 AM

Jacob Russell said...
Not sure how a question becomes a contest where one does or does not prevail. That part of the post quoted from a comment I left to Green's review on the Reading Experience.
February 13, 2010 11:02 AM
Frances Madeson said...

Don't be coy, Jacob. He's unbaitable. I've wagered a big bottle of wine on just that. One that I'd happily lose.
February 13, 2010 11:38 AM
Jacob Russell said...

I don't understand why you think I'm "baiting" him. I'm not being coy at all... just asking a straightforward question. I immediately thought of Phineas Gage when Aue was shot--not the meager substantiated information, but the swirl of alternate lives that have been attributed to him.

Or do you mean my thoughts about the Orestes substrata? Associations mid-read, not an argument with Daniel or anyone else. Talking to myself out loud. Stuff to keep in mind as I progress. I see the prospect of a different take on this but I'd hardly be advancing these ideas as arguments for debate when I've got another 400 pages before me!

So far, the most disturbing scenes have been the conversations about ideology--especially his Paris reunion and discussion with the circle of French intellectuals... where the ideas are themselves, violence, the womb of violence... profoundly disturbing in a way I wasn't prepared for... caught me off guard, entered my dreams. The stuff you hear now coming from the idiot right was already frightening enough--layered by those conversations about National Socialism they have my hair standing on end. I fear for the future my sons are likely to see.
February 13, 2010 12:05 PM
Jacob Russell said...

Black Lawrence Press was not interested in publishing.. running out of places to send it.
February 13, 2010 12:08 PM
Frances Madeson said...

Ask away, darling. I hope you get an exceptional answer. FYI on violence, I saw this about dogs and bunnies and thought of you.

“An old keeper told me that the guys who rent out the rabbit shooting for dog trials soak potatoes in diesel and throw them down the holes a few days before they’re going to work the ground, the smell is meant to drive the rabbits out and they get more flushes for the dogs. I don’t think this method would make them bolt straight away though? :hmm:Princes Haiku said...

Thank you for posting the Youtube link to your poetry reading, Jacob. It's just wonderful; the sensibility of your poem and your beautiful reading voice. I know how the poem, "lost" feels and it moved me to tears.
February 23, 2010 11:41 PM
Jacob Russell said...

Thank you.. I love what you do on your blog. It's always good to hear kind words from you.
February 24, 2010 1:10 AM
Princess Haiku said...

Frances Madesonsaid...
What phrase are you thinking you coined? I didn't catch it. And that's not like me.
February 25, 2010 1:41 PM
Jacob Russell said...

Google "fog of history" & comes up with 988,000 hits.
February 25, 2010 1:48 PM said...

What phrase are you thinking you coined? I didn't catch it. And that's not like me.
February 25, 2010 1:41 PM
Google "fog of history" comes up with 988,000 hits.
February 25, 2010 1:48 PM

The Kindly Ones: (4) Weltanshauung of Kitsch: Ersatz of the Imagination, the Ontology of Evil 
More and more I sense that I'm reading two books woven into one. Littell invests the historical personalities with all the conventionally approved operations: believable dialog and motives, individuates them, makes them conventionally "well rounded," and yet, compared to the fictive characters, they come across as less and less 'real.' This is most pronounced in the conversations with Aue, an effect that Littell must have been aware of. The research has been so meticulous, so in-your-face--historical details piling up like well sorted mounds of confiscated clothing of the dead--that it all but labels in bold face the fact that what they say to the imaginary characters is something else, different in kind--which has the uncanny effect of giving the fictional characters the impression of being more powerfully real, and the more strange and improbable they are (Clemons and Wesser, Mandelbrod), the more they overshadow the Himmlers and Eichmans et al--creating an aesthetic tension I find hypnotic. Littell has pitted the powers of imagination against the worst nightmares of history and let them fight it out--a conflict that can have no victors: no matter how powerful the aesthetic transformation, history does not vanish, but remains to haunt us with a reality that cannot be assimilated, that defies sublimation into art, nor can all the horror and banality of history succeed in erasing the visionary capacity to see beyond what 'is.'

What remains most disturbing is the cross contamination--the Weltanshauung of the National Socialists is no less an aesthetic vision--as has often been pointed out, an aesthetics of evil, kitsch: Ersatz, I think, would be a better term--more than the false play of appearance, but a lie against Being, the ontology of evil.
Question of Thomas ?

What is your take on Thomas. I don't recall anyone spending much time on this character. He remains an enigma to me, but one that tugs at my sleeve... something that begs to be acknowledged. Aue and Thomas are opposites of the sort that suggest identity--the more so, given the Jungian slant of TKL's psycho-mythology.  I smell a tripartite identity here--two of them in open conflict within Aue himself--the erotic and the rational, made grotesque by lack of mediating ego--all libido and intellect, while Thomas is the dissociated third: an empty cypher--sex without attachment, self-serving without conscience or any motive beyond self-preservation--an emptiness that corresponds to Aue's, only Aue... until he murders Thomas, at least in recollection, contrary to his frequent denials, displays both remorse and guilt, but is incapable of integrating those feelings with his distorted ideas, his "world-view," or even acknowledging the contradictions. That he is aware of this, at least subconsciously, we see in the conversations with Vos. 

Aue doesn't murder Thomas, he murders himself and become the puppet of Thomas' ghost.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Mountaintop Removal: Philadelphia Action

The state EPA in West Virginia has been ineffective, bowing to the pressure of Massey's whores, Rockefeller and Byrd et al. Come to the offices of the Federal EPA in Philadelphia where decisions are made and permits given or denied for mountaintop removal. One of the ridges targeted is now crowned by a wind farm--the coal pigs are out to destroy it in their relentless march backwards toward the destruction of life on the planet.

Come to 16th and Arch, Monday March 1, 11:00, outside the offices of the EPA and let remind them of what are appointed to do--which is not to serve the interest of a major  criminal, enemy of labor, democracy and human life, Don Blackenship, CEO of Massey Energy

To see how mountaintop removal is affecting communities, check out this trailer to the film: Burning the Future

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

René Girard: "the Inverted Transcendence of Mimetic Desire

"The gods haven't withdrawn: they have gone online and their name is Legion. "

Andrew Galli via A Piece of Monologue in the Guardian (sounding rather like Žižek on Lacan's Big Other): on René Girard's Deceit Desire and the Novel.
Girard's premise is the Romantic myth of "divine autonomy", according to which our desires are freely chosen expressions of our individuality. Don Quixote, for instance, aspires to a chivalric lifestyle. Nothing seems more straightforward but, besides the subject (Don Quixote) and object (chivalry), Girard highlights the vital presence of a model he calls the mediator (Amadis de Gaule in this instance). Don Quixote wants to lead the life of a knight errant because he has read the romances of Amadis de Gaule: far from being spontaneous, his desire stems from, and is mediated through, a third party. Metaphysical desire – as opposed to simple needs or appetites – is triangular, not linear. You can always trust a Frenchman to view the world as a ménage à trois.

Mediation is said to be external when the distance between subject and mediator is so great that never the twain shall meet. [...]  When mediation is internal, however, the distance between subject and mediator is small enough to give rise to rivalry between the two. The mediator, who aroused desire for the object in the first place, comes to be seen as an obstacle to the fulfilment of this very desire: "the model shows his disciple the gate of paradise and forbids him to enter with one and the same gesture". Although now ostensibly a figure of hatred, the mediator continues to be idolised subterraneously or even subconsciously [...] Girard's contention is that the need for transcendence has survived the decline of Christianity, resulting in the ersatz "inverted transcendence" of mimetic desire. 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Narrative in Service to the State: Brian Turner, A Well-Written War

It would be hard to find a better example of the inseparability of narrative, whether poetry or fiction, from politics, than Elizabeth Bumiller's NYT review of Brian Turner's A Well-Written War. The last paragraph quoted here is a perfect demonstration of how a documentary mindset--the conscious pursuit of 'objectivity,' is most ideologically in debt to conventions that rationalize the status quo and erase alternative ways of imagining the world: hence, the most restrictive and limited representations of reality. To show the world the way it seems to be is propaganda, not art.

Soldier-writers have long produced American literature, from Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs about the Civil War to Norman Mailer’s World War II novel, “The Naked and the Dead,” to Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” about Vietnam.

The current group is different. As part of a modern all-volunteer force, they explore the timeless theme of the futility of war — but wars that they for the most part support. The books, many written as rites of passage by members of a highly educated young officer corps, are filled with gore, inept commanders and anguish over men lost in combat, but not questions about the conflicts themselves. “They look at war as an aspect of glory, of finding honor,” said Mr. O’Brien, who was drafted for Vietnam in 1968 out of Macalester College in St. Paul. “It’s almost an old-fashioned, Victorian way of looking at war.”

The writers say one goal is to explain the complexities of the wars — Afghan and Iraqi politics, technology, the counterinsurgency doctrine of protecting local populations rather than just killing bad guys — to a wider audience. Their efforts, embraced by top commanders, have even bled into military reports that stand out for their accessible prose.

The importance of good official writing is so critical in reaching a broader audience to get people to understand what we’re trying to do,” said Capt. Matt Pottinger, a Marine and former reporter for The Wall Street Journal who is a co-author of the report “Fixing Intel,” an indictment of American intelligence-gathering efforts in Afghanistan released last month. “Even formal military doctrine is well served by a colloquial style of writing.”

Emphasis mine

Friday, February 5, 2010

New Philly Litmag: Call for Submissions

Formed in Philadelphia in late 2009, The Apiary literary magazine publishes short works of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and other written work. Though mainly a home for writing, The Apiary is also interested in two dimensional artwork, or anything that we think can fit on a page.

The Apiary exists online, in-print and anywhere else you'd like us to be if you speak up. The Apiary wants to read your writing, listen to your stories, and tell other people to do the same. The Apiary is for us, it's for you, and it's for your friends and neighbors, people you meet on the street, and anyone whose hands need new pages to turn and new words to read.