Sunday, April 01, 2007
Peace On A presents Wayne Koestenbaum & Douglas Martin*
Peace On A
Wayne Koestenbaum & Douglas A. Martin
Friday, April 6th 2007 8PM
BYOB & recommended donation: $5
hosted by Thom Donovan at:
166 Avenue A, Apartment #2
New York, NY 10009
about the readers:
Wayne Koestenbaum has published five books of poetry: *Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films*, *Model Homes*, *The Milk of Inquiry*, *Rhapsodies of a Repeat Offender*, and *Ode to Anna Moffo and Other Poems*. He has also published a novel, *Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes*, and five books of nonfiction: *Andy Warhol*, *Cleavage*, *Jackie Under My Skin*, *The Queen’s Throat* (a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist), and *Double Talk*. He wrote the libretto for Michael Daugherty’s opera, *Jackie O*. Koestenbaum’s next book, *Hotel Theory*, will be published in May 2007. He is a Distinguished Professor of English at the CUNY Graduate Center, and currently also a Visiting Professor in the painting department of the Yale School of Art.
But I made it far enough through the first act to be struck, when Anna Moffo entered, with a sensation I’ve tried to describe before, and may never adequately name. Her timbre was separate from its surroundings. Her voice wasn’t the canopy, the column, the architrave; gravely self-sufficient, it seemed not a copy of life, but life itself, and, like a breathing property, it entered my system with a vector so naïve, unadulterated, and elemental, that my drab bedroom shifted on its axis.
~ from Wayne Koestenbaum’s *The Queen’s Throat*
Douglas A. Martin's most recent books are *Branwell*, a novel of the Bronte brother, and a collection of stories, *They Change the Subject*. His first novel, *Outline of My Lover*, was named an International Book of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement and adapted in part by the Forsythe Company for their multimedia dance-theater piece "Kammer/Kammer." He is also the author of two collections of poetry and a co-author of *the haiku year*. In 2008, he will publish *Last Early Poems* and a work of lyric prose, *Your Body Figured*.
To not believe there’s goodness where he sees what he does. How could I be wary of someone he trusts? He likes, has allowed to be his friend. Someone who will be connected. Again and again, in this magazine and picture, this paper and book.
Someone he will let exist in a way I never do.
~ from Douglas A. Martin’s *Outline of My Lover*
Peace On A is an events series devoted to emergent work by writers, artists, performers and scholars. Past presenters at Peace on A include Alan Gilbert, E. Tracy Grinnell, Cathy Park Hong, Paolo Javier, Eléna Rivera, David Levi Strauss, Andrew Levy & Kyle Schlesinger. Scroll down Wild Horses of Fire weblog (whof.blogspot.com) for back advertisements, introductions and reading selections.
“stubborn with the stubbornness of water / that ‘lesser strength which explores / the edges and interstices of power’ / and comes on a different way.”—Daniel Berrigan
Intro: Douglas A. Martin
Reading Douglas A. Martin’s *Outline of My Lover* I am reminded of Medieval Theosophies whereof the mystical Truth-seeker prays for creator and created to be united, for the world to once again be whole (or whole for the first time) united as subject both *for* and *in* itself: a Parousia of deepest longings. But perhaps all any one can do, practically—as Martin’s book goes to show—is form an outline for this ultimate relation so as to demarcate the shadows and circumferences of an absolute cosmological garment. To presence this relation by expressing it.
Reading Martin I am also reminded of what I find most compelling about many of David Lynch’s characters. That they veil mysteries and interior states that can only be revealed *as* surface: through what is said , and what bodies say eruptive beyond intention in tics, blushes, tears, stray glances…. Isabella Rosellini’s, “Help me, I’m falling”; more recently, in *Mulholland Drive*, a character’s insistence while pointing at an actress’ headshot: “That’s the girl!” In Lynch’s weird speech-acts truly appear the mysteries of ourselves in relation, and beyond the relational. Mysteries of love born in sexual difference. How does the song go in *Blue Velvet*?: “Sometimes a wind blows / and you and I float in love / and kiss forever in a darkness / and the mysteries of love come clear.”
“Longer before he’s getting back the next time. I start turning over in the crowded bed that is his I‘m making, crowded with my mere presence. Bed becomes his I’m in it.”(101)
Where will interior become exposed? The beloved to the lover turning away where once “he was at home on my back”—not yet parted? How should we fathom it—what’s inside separate from other insides? It is unfathomable. And if it can be located by any means, it will be here in passional and compelled writing—Martin’s profession. Beyond being a fragmentary and autobiographical memoir, what defines *Outline of My Lover* in its form is a passionate grammar marking place-holders and pivots for emotional states, phases, modes. Just as soon as any banality of confession or diarism threatens to take over, there is the writing itself—what is does, lovingly—that recalls the attention. Flips a switch for the mind’s heart, makes the world quicken. More so twists, providing for the active interest. Involving it.
“Life that does not sink back to from where it came, corner crawled back into, curled up when all it seems you will ever know is all you ever did.
If I was caught in a moment, any, I don’t think I would ever come across like him.” (160)
Likely it is this twisting—scored by periods and commas—which afterall defines “New Narrative” since Bruce Boone, Robert Gluck, Dodie Belamy and Dennis Cooper. To place the reader into occurrence by inventing a new language for the heart’s obscurer *stimmung*; by inventing (post-Bataille, Blanchot, Klossowski, Acker) philosophical dialogues by deictical grunts, monosyllabics, affective syntactical shifts, language acting-up and out. Expression is maximal in bare wording; writing closest to how people talk who maintain our interest, are “interesting” as such. All the heart means is in the small words and phrasing of adult teenagers or teenage adults overtuning the most basic presuppositions of what a narrative writing for love would presently entail.
“We sit on a couch in one hotel and he cries with his arm around me. I’ve put on an album from his childhood. Before his life became this dream.
We are holding each other.
He says come over here, and he puts his arm around me. They’re happy tears for him.
In that hotel where he always stays, he is hearing his past mean something to him. The song about what a boy does when his father dies, how he dreams of recapturing that father’s body before it left.” (81)
Wayne Koestenbaum: Intro
Nearly a decade ago, when I was writing my senior thesis in college, a friend referred to my work as a devotional scholarship. I have often wondered at the meaning of this term since then, and may be able to define it after Wayne Koestenbaum’s work to date.
To devote: as in to become a devotee, intiated into a discourse or way; to transfer identity, as with an object of affection or worship. To be, finally, inseparable from this object, cathected, believing and clasped to it as such…
How one may go about writing for an object of discourse while not extricating one’s self as a subject is a question that haunts me long since college devotions, earlier ones than that. It is a problem I have hunted in books as various as Walter Benjamin’s *Berlin Childhood*, Lester Bangs’ rock criticism, Susan Howe’s writings on Emily Dickinson and others, films by Chris Marker and Trinh Min Ha, Leslie Scalapino’s recent experiments in autobiography, and Louis Zukofsky *Bottom: on Shakespeare*—for starters. Whatever should we call “I”—“the person,” “the life”—when one would seek after the life of something or someone else, that which should remain anterior to a self’s boundaries, terms, interior.
Returning to these problems in the past months, Wayne Koestenbaum’s 1993 book, *The Queen’s Throat*, has been a joy to read as well as an inexhaustibly generous text to discover in the ways the book insists (and practices) that the life of the poet-scholar should not be uninvolved with whatever it chooses to observe, or put down for the record decisively. At no turn of *The Queen’s Throat* do I sense a withdrawal of the personality, even where the person is frequently transcended, crossed by sublime thresholds:
“But I made it far enough through the first act to be struck, when Anna Moffo entered, with a sensation I’ve tried to describe before, and may never adequately name. Her timbre was separate from its surroundings. Her voice wasn’t the canopy, the column, the architrave; gravely self-sufficient, it seemed not the copy of life but life itself, and, like a breathing property, it entered my system with a vector so naïve, unadulterated, and elemental, so unpolluted by names I would later impose on the experience, that my drab bedroom shifted on its axis.” (10)
For the poet-scholar persists questions of tuning: how the eyes should be with the ear, experience with idea, mind with sense, nervous system with cerebellum, fact with percept, particularity with generality. Investigating music poses a special challenge of tuning inasmuch as music is probably the most elusive and yet immediate of the arts, and thus what most evades a critic’s ability to pin it down, evaluate, and classify adequately.
Somehow, miraculously, in *The Queen’s Throat*, Koestenbaum presences a music culture without ever losing sight (nor his finely tuned ear) in the face of what that culture offers him and others devoted to it: a means of both exploring identity, and maintaining identities in ambivalence; a means of maintaining that ultimate identity of ambivalence nominally called “queer” or “gay”.
Why should voice be the site for this identity claimed, salvaged, unannounced or renounced except for the fact that voice itself insistently projects its vicissitudes and fluctuating appearances (I dare not call them “false”) within any culture. In Koestenbaum’s book it is ultimately voice—that singular chiasmus of substances spiritual and material—that radicalizes how one should locate identity as identity is always discovered in the real and resemblance simultaneously. We lip-synch & ventriloquize; we throw our voices because there are things we love and want to be with inevitably, because we would like to become those objects of our affections and attention in some way. But in assuming voice as such we also identify beyond the thing-in-itself, and so spawn something unimaginable, unprecedented by whatever mutation or evolution. If there is anything I finally take to be essentially “queer” after Koestenbaum’s work it is this very over-determination beyond essence.
“’Vocal crisis’ means a crisis in the voice, but it also means articulate crisis, crisis given voice. Hardly an interruption of diva art, vocal crisis is the diva’s self-lacerating announcement that interruption has been, all along, her subject and method. And in her interruption, I hear the imagined nature of homosexuality as a rip in meaning, in coherence, in cultural systems, in vocal consistency. Homosexuality isn’t intrinsically an interruption; but society has characterized it as a break and a schism, and gay people, who are moulded in the image of crisis and emergency, who are associated with ‘crisis’ (Gay Men’s Health Crisis), may begin to identify with crisis and to hear the interrupted voice as our echo.”(129)
Beyond the incomparable richness and aristocracy of *The Queen’s Throat* as a masterpiece of artful criticism, I recognize Koestenbaum’s work at large to enact a crucial prosodic labor at cultural disaster sites. Where so many books after the ongoing AIDs pandemic have resorted, however understandably, to both narcissistic sentimentality and incommensurable melancholia, Koestenbaum recuperates crisis—creating out of it immanently—towards a future for cultural identities where identity must play between coming-to-be (being “soon-to-be” as the Arthur Russell song would have it) and being erased, silenced—doing the voices at the wings of semblance; between needing to become an interpollatable addresee, and wanting all address to recede into selfless ek-stases beyond persons or communities, singularity and unsubtractable multitude. To produce being in affirmation; to be articulate and heard, however often also overdubbed.
*"Luxury" image courtesy Anton Van Dalen