Wednesday, April 15, 2015

if your eyes aren’t here it’s not mine (Interview)

"My ‘ideal community’ is made of women over the age of fifty, Mom, angry teenagers, coyote pack sounds, forgotten bananas in the freezer, and the permission granted in banal niceties such as ‘sorry’ or ‘thank you’. I was on a competitive swim team for most of my adolescence and I never got good. People kept thinking I’d improve my time, be faster, everyone else seemed to be doing it, but I never did. I became obsessed with getting faster, but not because I wanted to earn points for my team (I was far away from ever doing that) but because it felt like a funny abstraction for others to support me. I think about that time often because I loved my teammates. I was even voted captain, but the coach wouldn’t allow it, because I was too slow. She was a total asshole."--Cara Benedetto

Monday, April 13, 2015

Ancients no. 2 (ed. Brandon Shimoda)


a photocopied reproduction of a stack of paper, featuring collages, drafts, drawings, dreams, emails, essays, hair, notes, poems, receipts, and trash, byAmber Atiya, Sarah Boyer, Sam Christopher, Phil Cordelli, Dot Devota, Thom Donovan, Yanara Friedland, Ally Harris, Christine Shan Shan Hou, Jared Joseph, Purdey Lord Kreiden, Carrie Lorig, Feliz Lucia Molina, Caitie Moore, John Niekrasz, Christopher Rey Pérez, Kit Schlüter, Ben Segal, Robert Snyderman, Yosuke Tanaka, Michael Thomas Taren, Cassandra Troyan, and Jackie Wang

Cover photograph of Midori Shimoda. Limited Edition; print copies available soon.

See Ancients No. One (2013)

Monday, April 06, 2015

Withdrawals: Occult Poetics & Sociopolitical Practice

I'm super excited to announce that in the fall I will be teaching a graduate course at Parsons that looks at writers and artists who use occult/spiritual/mystical techniques as a means of vitalizing/mediating their sociopolitical engagements/activisms. Some of the writers we will look at include Bhanu Jacasta Kapil, Robert Kocik, Fred Moten, Jalal Toufic, Etel Adnan, Rob Halpern, Eleni Stecopoulos, Brandon Shimoda, Melissa Buzzeo, Nathaniel Mackey, and CA Conrad. The full course description is in the link below:

Withdrawals: Occult Poetics & Sociopolitical Practice             

This course will look at a broad range of contemporary writing practices that use both metaphors of the occult and occult techniques to mediate the writer’s sociopolitical practices. I am interested in exploring how recourse to the occult often proceeds from cultural impasse, as a means of producing political and social transformation through the remediation of traditional, yet often submerged, unofficial, or heretical, cultural knowledge. I would also like to consider the relationship between “occlusion” (a withdrawal of the sensible) and the non-representability and/or unavailability of certain events and subjects. Lastly, this course will consider recourse to the occult as a means of world-making and symbolic action, often performed under duress, at a threshold of tangibility. Some related issues that we will explore include: how an “ensemble of the senses” (Fred Moten) enacts an aesthetic politics; the way fiction and radical conceptions of the imaginary operate in relation to trauma; the appropriation of ritual in order to democratize sociopolitical practice; and the potentialization of embodiment through spiritual and occult techniques. The texts we will look at include Michel de Certeau’s Heterologies, Nathaniel Mackey’s From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, Fred Moten’s In the Break, Robert Kocik’s Supple Science, Etel Adnan’s To Look at the Sea is to Become What One Is, Jalal Toufic’s Forthcoming, Bhanu Kapil’s Ban en Banlieu, Rob Halpern’s Commonplace, and Eleni Stecopoulos’ Visceral Poetics, as well as shorter selections from a variety of contemporary writers.

From a Discussion of “the occult” for SHIFTER Magazine

Karl Marx writes in his “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1848,” that the “senses therefore become theoreticians in their immediate practice.” While it is a phrase that has been repeated countless times, is it worth dwelling with again. What, I wonder, becomes the sense of theory (or a theory of the senses) when one becomes synaesthesiac in the wake of the disaster; when what we see also makes us hear (or touch, or smell, or taste)? Where hearing in fact supercedes seeing, overcoming the hegemony of the ocular? I think of Marx’s proposition as an essentially aesthetic one—one of the few in his work. Likewise, we may think of latter Marxists, Antonio Gramsci in particular, for problematizing a discourse of the senses through his privileging of “common sense” as the basis for revolutionary practice. What, too, if our common sense involves a negation of the senses? A withdrawal into the eidetic, the subtle; into non-representational modes of meaning-making (such are sound and gesture and movement)? At what point does language, as that upon which our common sense largely depends, become non-meaningful, does it refuse the reduction of “nonmeaning” and “phonic substance” for a “universal grammar” (to quote some key phrases from Fred Moten’s In the Break). Music and sound performance, in Moten’s book, examine the ways that meaning-making becomes irreducible to forms of life marked by the struggle for autonomy and impropriety. That which is musical and/or sonorous (i.e., noisy) in the visual mark the place where the visual is “cut” (another Moten term) in order to mark a differentiation within the otherwise present and self-same (ipseity), a differentiation (alterity) which, after Derrida, Moten poses as a necessary condition of possibility for a universalism, a universal freedom to which the Black Radical Aesthetic Tradition in particular strives. In the passage I chose to look at today, Moten bears witness to the occlusion of the visual faced with the photograph of Emmett Till’s casket. The visual is occluded not just because one must look away, but because the face ruptured and wounded withdraws its essence (or pictorial sense?) from the looker. In its excess of materiality, in its excess of nonmeaningful significance, the onlooker is silenced, and in that silence hears something else: the call to revolutionary action which led to the decisive events of the Civil Rights Era/emergence of Black Nationalism; the call to triumph over death; the call, too, of a lost maternity upon which African-American culture is forged after the Middle Passage, “an insistent previousness evading each and every natal occasion,” to quote Moten quoting Nathaniel Mackey. Similarly, in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985), the filmmaker chooses to represent survivors of the camps through extreme close-ups of the face. I believe he does so to privilege an aural-affective content of the face that is in excruciating excess to the stories the survivors attempt to, but often cannot, tell. The face withdraws, in this case, because it is too present, because it says (or remembers) too much; in this way it embodies the concept of “trace” in Derrida’s and Levinas’ thought. As Jalal Toufic has written of the face in Lanzmann’s Shoah, the extreme close-up makes present the “over”; that which is in the diegetic image-track that would seem occulted, occluded, as though of another world. The otherworldly, in Toufic, is constituted through trauma; the breakdown of cultural production, and of empirical and historical reality, in the face of a incalculable collective trauma. There is a passage in Toufic’s Vampires (2nd Edition) sublime becomes it articulates concisely the status of haunting in relation to trauma; that in the throes of such deep trauma, the ghosts do not yet haunt a place because they have yet to even return. The point of much of Toufic’s work, as he says in Vampires, is to recall those ghosts, to provide for them (as he puns on the plight of Palestinians) a “right of return” through literature, art, and other modes of cultural production. The text that I chose to look at today, The Withdrawal of Tradition Past a Surpassing Disaster, collects a number of texts from across Toufic’s many books, as well as from uncollected texts such as Toufic’s introduction to Etel Adnan’s The Arab Apocalypse. In brief, a surpassing disaster marks a cultural trauma so intensive that the traditions of that culture can no longer be sustained. Among his many examples, Toufic sites the Jewish Frankists of 18th Century Poland/Eastern Europe, who faced with extreme persecution declared a practice of “redemption through sin,” a negative messianic condition in which Jacob Frank and his followers enacted their belief that the messiah’s coming could be expedited through transgression. In other poignant examples, Jewish students kick-down and deface tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in Berlin; and Native Americans prohibit that a traditional dance any longer be performed. The “occult” here marks a withdrawal of the objects and practices of a culture—their subtlization—after disaster. Withdrawal necessitates negation—negation through occultation—but also an affirmation through innovation—new forms of cultural production. By addressing a negative condition of one’s senses, that a culture’s commonsense can no longer access or invest belief in a object or ritual—Toufic calls upon his contemporaries to “deserve” their culture (and I am thinking here of the eponymous essay in his book Deserving Lebanon). Which is to say, make culture in the rubble that will tarry with the event in order to transcend it, a dice throw within eternal recurrence that inaugurates new life, or a resurrection of those withdrawn cultural traditions that would not be “counterfeit” (a demonic doubling; a return only in appearance). The problem of the surpassing disaster is to know that we are in one. It is the artist who discerns this through their work. The senses therefore become theoreticians in their immediate praxis, yet through the withdrawal of the senses—in the turn of the senses towards the subtle, virtual, eternally recurrent, eidetic—one grasps a crucial spiritual response to collective trauma. One of Toufic’s principal examples of surpassing disaster is the book-length poem by Etel Adnan, The Arab Apocalypse (1989), regarding the oppression and genocide of itinerant Palestinians during the first days of the Lebanese Civil War. One of the most curious aspects of Adnan’s poem, much of which otherwise reads life an Expressionist hymn a la Aime Cesaire’s “Notebook of return to my native land” or Allen Ginsberg’s “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” is her inclusion of drawings, many which resemble a kind of writing—hieroglyphs, petroglyphs, calligraphy—that disrupt the poem’s lines. Cultural trauma is registered here by a writing the status of which is neither image, sound, gesture, or text, but all and none of the above. Drawing as writing and writing as drawing; writing-drawing-writing as intense aural-acoustic gesture saying saying saying (Levinas). Similarly, Adnan’s insistent naming of colors throughout the poem marks the beginning of a world-forming, the names for the colors being possibly the closest one can come to the non-discursive (or non-existent) through the nominal-descriptive—a Peircian “firstness” before relation. I have called the colors in Adnan’s paintings “angel colors” because they seem to erupt from a realm of non-being, a plenum of pure potential—and physically this may be attributed to Adnan’s painting with tubes of paint directly onto canvases with a palette knife. The result of this unique practice are overtones that affect one much less visually than aurally, acting directly—like sound vibrations—on the central nervous system.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Interview with Cassandra Troyan

at The New Inquiry

"For the masochist the relationship to one’s desire is always negotiated through a liminal libidinal space traversing the opposing thresholds of dominance and control. It enables a framework for looking outside the conventional expectation of trauma as a context, mediator, and influence of the masochist’s ‘abberant’ behavior. One of the central hopes in KILL MANUAL is an attempt to rethink the power of the bottom, or what it means to willingly choose to enter spaces of subjugation when multiple domains of life are already operating through mechanisms of policing or force. I think the masochist can teach us about instruments of survival and building new possibilities for reciprocal desire through re-organizing spaces of intimacy, power, and control as they relate to appetites or subjectivities unfit for the habitual spaces of capitalist fantasy."

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Danny Hayward's People (review)

How to exit the prison house of certain historical circuits between Marxist- Hegelianism and poetry (from Shelley to Symbolism to Objectivism and Lang Po to post-Occupy)? Or, twisting the words of Stuart Hall, what would a Marxist poetry “without guarantee” look like?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Renée Green's Other Planes of There (review)

"There is a curious time sense in this book, which has been organized so that we may regard the ways that research, criticism, documentation, and various aesthetic processes feedback with one another, cultivating modes of meta-discourse."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


They’re fucking with the corpses again
Fucking up the corpses
Fucking with the bodies
Plagiarizing the body count

They’re cutting up the text again
Like his body was a metaphor
Like the text weren’t literal
Like his body wasn’t literal

They’re meddling with things
They understand too well
The unremarkable genitalia
The sad objects of control

Taking up the space that should have been reserved
For corpses, their rumored fosse, their
Poorly marked graves and their graves
In the water in the air

The disaster was only a text to you
It was never actual flesh
It was not like the flesh they cut into
Like a promise and a threat

To some day fuck back
Into unprecedented orifices
With unforeseen organs
Until death wasn’t yet

Like a future we could feel
Having only this present
They’re fucking with the corpses
They’re making the corpses into art

Pretending readymade is not another
Name for discovery, pretending they’re not
Subjects and he wasn’t turned into an object
Taking his last breath

They’re pretending there’s no correlation
Between the contextual and the real
How they will tweet about them fucking him
How a network will treat his second death.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

For Lee Lozano

The destructive character is the enemy of the étui-man. The étui-man looks for comfort, and the case is its quintessence. The inside of the case is the velvet-lined trace that he has imprinted on the world. The destructive character obliterates even the traces of destruction.
--Walter Benjamin, from "The Destructive Character"

Where’d you go, Lee?
There are performances and then there are performances
Like art was always speculation
Like this was a speculation
On how to be a self
A woman, how to be a woman
To stop circulating
In anything but your present
Would resist art’s alibi
Like the self was the last thing
You could quit
Last form of capital
Boycotting your self

In the 70s everyone became a punk
Because identity was the last thing one could destroy (faced with the world’s destruction)
To unmake the image of everything, everyone
To do this through image-making
Then destruction itself became a means of identity
How to locate art’s destructive character?

Because you wouldn’t want to be part of any club that would…
Because you hardly have anything in common...
The name keeps changing, its appearance in a flux riven
The series of names that you were
Every name in her story
Those airless spaces where you continued being born
Motherless except for one letter
All that was left
An exchange of lack withdrawn by a lack of exchange

Like Andrew found all of Hannah’s books and effects thrown to the curb after she died
Death is only the beginning of the artist’s ‘career’
The artist is not present
Or if they are, the discourse is trashed

Question: what is the difference between abjection and dejection and rejection?
Answer: a prefix.
Answer: a different way to destroy.