Sunday, May 13, 2007

Peace On A presents: Robert Kocik & Jonathan Skinner (Intro)

“everlastingly themselves eidolons intellect garden”
~ Louis Zukofsky, from “A – 22”

Peace On A


Robert Kocik & Jonathan Skinner*

Saturday, May 5th 2007 8PM
BYOB & recommended donation: $5

hosted by Thom Donovan at:

166 Avenue A, Apartment #2
New York, NY 10009

about the readers:

Robert Kocik poet, prosodist, artist, builder, lives in Brooklyn, NY, where he owns and operates the Bureau of Material Behaviors. Architecturally, the 'missing civic service' is his declared niche. He is currently involved in the design phases of the Preemptive Peace Place (an agency devoted to the permanent peace movement) and the Prosody Building (a building entirely attuned to the prosodic). His poetry plies what he refers to as 'burst prosody'--perfused by and propagating all things. His essays comprise the the nascent discipline known as the Sore, Oversensitive Sciences (SOS). Recent additions to SOS include: The Susceptive System and Stressogony. With choreographer Daria Fain he has initiated an experiential, aesthetic science named the Prosodic Body. His publications include: *Overcoming Fitness* (Autonomedia, 2001) and *Rhrurbarb* (Field Books, 2007).

Overcoming cure. Regardless.
Space is a function of finding
you. Your only exterior
my euphoria. Regardless.

With that with which it can’t be shown...
forming a residue—
a field of rhubarb and zinnias,
the dimensions of the workspace,
a boat-swallowing fish from
water drained from raccoon track.
~ from Robert Kocik’s *Rhrurbarb*

Jonathan Skinner publishes Field Books and edits the review ecopoetics (, teaches Environmental Studies at Bates College and lives in Bowdoinham, the tick capital of Maine. His *Political Cactus Poems* are available through Palm Press (


on the Tift tarmac
a boisterous crowd of three
wearing rack and pinion
Canadensis is a fever
crowned with geese in the fall
does it come in grids
there and now, north south
breakfast on the wing heels
skidding to a marsh
~ from Jonathan Skinner’s *Political Cactus Poems*

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, Wayne Koestenbaum, Douglas Martin, Eléna Rivera, David Levi Strauss, Andrew Levy & Kyle Schlesinger. Scroll down Wild Horses of Fire weblog ( for back advertisements, introductions and reading selections.

*A launch for Robert Kocik's new book, RHRURBARB (Field Books, 130 pages, perfect-bound), the first in the Field Book imprint.

To order a copy of RHRURBARB send an address and $15 to:

Jonathan Skinner
111 Bardwell St.
Lewiston, ME 04240


Intro for Robert Kocik: We Have Decided Not to Survive (or How to Make a Prosodic Body?)

The point of view of an ethics is: of what are you capable, what can you do? Hence a return to this sort of cry of Spinoza’s: *what can a body do?* We never know in advance what a body can do. We never know how we’re organized and how the modes of existence are enveloped in somebody.
~ Gilles Deleuze, 1980 Course on “Ontology & Ethics”

Throughout Gilles Deleuze’s work he continually sounds the refrain of Spinoza: “what can a body do”? In Spinoza’s once recently “Enlightened” era the 17th century philosopher recognized his society had barely begun to answer this question. Robert Kocik’s extraordinary work—work I dare not call merely “interdisciplinary” or “hybrid”—demonstrates how we of 2007 have still barely begun to answer the most exigent question of Spinoza’s ethical philosophy.

What would it mean to answer this question—now and forever? Kocik’s 2001 book, *Overcoming Fitness*, along with Giorgio Agamben’s recent texts about biological states of exception, Madeline Gins’ barely read *Helen Keller or Arakawa*, and Jalal Toufic’s *(Vampires)* are significant leaps in the right ethological directions. In an age of failing theoretical discourse, unrigorous experimentalism, and disembodied activism we must turn our skills increasingly to inventing whole new ways of thinking and being in order to account for the mistakes of history, and to make fates reversible, thus disasterous (where dis-aster, literally, is that which is fateless, without constellation, plan or foreclosed end). Where Gins/Arawaka would forage in radical empiricism and architectural practices towards a body immortally perceptive, Kocik projects his own decision "not to die"—that is, against “sudden advantages which may keep us from succumbing to the soft genocide of almighty gradualism”*; what Walter Benjamin called “mere life” —through a work for spiritual and physical well-being opposed the fitnesses of ruthless social competition, exploitation of resources, perpetual war in the names of “peace” and “defense”—hypostatic mediocrities of aesthetisized and anaesthetized *is*. To overcome fitness is to accelerate a deadly cultural symptomology to make immanent and imminent more affirmative ones, new matrices of desire for genetic-becoming beyond phylogeny and ontogeny alike; it is also (once again to use the terminology of Arakawa/Gins) to decide not to die, where decision would seem a good unto itself in its affirmation of “not”—what is consequentially potentializing, however unforeseen.

After Kocik, we should address any number of voids. The voids of all that we do not understand or know about our bodies—our bodies our voids?—and what is still quaintly called “the soul”. The primary void of our era is that of a common gene pool. It is the absence of a sufficient spiritual grounding to approach the present genetic void that terrifies me, and puts Kocik to his work. In the face of genetic void, Kocik has begun to invent a total spiritual technology enfolding “hard” science and “soft” science alike—empirical research, cultural study, and aesthetic sensibility. This spiritual technology Kocik calls “subtle science” or the “prosodic body”:

"I’m subtlizing fitness. It’s very simple. (Like Blake’s ‘mental, not corporeal war’) Not social fitness, not surgical fitness, but subtle fitness. An inquiry into human properties so arduous and unforgiving that those properties are brought to light where light upon them literally places these inborn properties (the sum of which is our nature) pliably in our hands. ‘Subtle’ refers to the malleable phase wherein constitutions may be denatured and remade by means of attention and unconditional love. Safe synthetics, to say the least. Under subtle fitness, all the attention typically devoted to the ingraining of the habits of survival shifts to physiological points where our fundamental properties are both heritable and open to influence—where the Original (which we had been surviving on) can be re-written. Where myths—like good triumphing over evil—can be made. Perhaps the myth of *the selection of the most delightful*.

And just as the beatitudes were at first strictly symbolic, subtle fitness will first be established in spirit. Once the subtle pathways are opened and understood, the gross pathways can then become identified and researched materially—prosodically, medically, environmentally, economically."

To practice subtle science, as I understand it, is to inform a groundwork before a world of relation, practical action and result. In my own work, as well as Kocik’s, we may locate a shared subtle science, among other places, in Medieval theosophies, and especially the angelologies confluent among Zoroastrianism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Does Kocik’s work not revive late-Gnosticism as a Platonism without guarantee? A beatitude of literal Theogonies? A void swerving for a practical l’Esprit de Corps?

"Are there glorious states without fitness? Undeserving and elated? Gratuitous and undying? Aren’t vulnerability and hunger advantageous too (Athens became a philosophical power only after losing its navy)?

That’s precisely what blessedness does—it overcomes fitness. The beatitudes, pronounced by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, brought invaluable symbolic liberation. The democratization of happiness. Woe to the rich for they have already got all they’re ever going to git.

But the beatitudes themselves have only begun to materialize rather recently—applying themselves not to otherworld or kingdom come but to current socio-economic conditions. Since 1525 when Thomas Muntzer caught cannonballs with his bare hands while leading the Peasant Revolt we’ve been in a period of material beatification. The Last Judgment is for the living."

While Kocik’s work encourages obsolescence, mis- and dis- use, it also remains entirely useful and generative in what it can do. Perhaps it is generative in ways similar to disability. For to disable is finally to show how something works by how it doesn’t—it is “knockout” as Kocik puts it; more so, however inadvertently or fortuitously, disability posits the subject at the indiscernible points, the blindspots, where a technology—that which works, or functions all-too-well—has failed to maintain its instrumentality in relation to a user for whom the existence of that technology would otherwise recede in use. A tragic failure to privilege disability I find echoed in Augstine’s lament, which Kocik quotes throughout Overcoming Fitness: "if only they had found a use for the world without using it." To become prosodic body, then, is to occupy those obscure locations, place holders, purchases and pivots where “I” is not any longer I because it won’t work—so is unmade, inoperative, disabled, and thusly substantiated.

Why prosody and not poetry? How overcome poetics itself as fitness, more over? These terminological distinctions (poetry vs. prosody) are crucial to approaching Kocik’s project adequately, as well as to put it to use. Where “poetry” (so called) has failed to embody a whole life—actual and potential, plenitudinal and inplenitudinal; where it has failed to become connative in a world for all created (Spinoza); where it has become, mainly, cynical and ignorant about its own potential to transform spiritual existence materially, prosody would instead “outsource” the poet to other fields, disciplines, modes, practices, involvements, liaisons, locals to reclaim inactive making and active unmaking for larger universes of concern.

"Poetry Outsource
DEFINITION Poets ‘placing’ themselves by pursuing new roles, omitted modes of operation and revenue generation at once provides perfect architectural specifications for a location out of which such modes may be facilitated. Outsource simply means taking the role of the poet out into society in novel and necessary ways as well as taking into poetry concerns, resources, substances and practices ordinarily considered extrinsic to poetry."

Robert Kocik returns recently (about 8 years ago as far as I can tell), like a George Oppen or Laura Riding Jackson before him, from a necessary hiatus from poetry as merely “literary” or versifying. After studying with Robert Duncan and others in San Francisco in the early 80’s, Kocik gave up writing poetry (or at least publishing what he’d written) to translate the work of others from French into English, as well as to construct objects, structures and inhabitable spaces. Such a renunciation of poetics as “literary” (that is, cynical and elitist), or concerned mainly with language as rhetoric or manner, I find encouraging and heroic, if not perhaps the only means by which one should claim the name “poet” any more. Having “outsourced” himself for so long, Kocik is back with new work furthering prosodic embodiment, his book *Rhurubarb* with Jonathan Skinner’s Field Press, and a forthcoming essay with Andrew Levy and Roberto Harrison’s Crayon, "Stessogony". Tonight we celebrate his ongoing efforts…

*unless otherwise noted, all quotation is taken from Robert Kocik's *Overcoming Fitness*

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