Saturday, January 27, 2007

Out of Manes?

for Gregg Biglieri & Judith Goldman...
sleepy with democarcy
vigilant at 24 frames per second

"Horses: who will do it? out of manes?..."
~ Louis Zukofsky

The history of Spirit is a flicker-bird
Or rather, a flick
Whose shadow crosses this flimsy narrative framework
For a twenty-fourth of a second
Vanishing from all but your sight

We were young Hegelians in an American dream
Past its priming
The pump of New World Orders

But your shadow shows
And nicklodeans
Take orders from no one
Waiving our right
To gaze so metapolitics
Must have eyes in the back of its head,

Since as you say "information is not enough"
The poem must be tactical reality TV will be
Like a wall unmended
Rerunning our quilting points 24/7

W is both a wall
& a black box
Whose ears hath not seen
The war dead
But we hear
Better when you point there
Unpolitely at the crowned
& uncovered

Disaster richochets with thinking
Poetry's not childs play but insists
No child riddled with bullets
Or labored for surplus value

Your ears score the horse
Racing out of manes to tease frames
Like Truth they subtract tears
From the place of our waking

Your eyes like logical proofs
Double-cross us
If only to shoot
Straight into a literal night

Text marks the site
Of hope and critique.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Shut Not Your Doors (Susan Howe @ St. Mark's)

Shut not your doors to me proud libraries,
For that which was lacking on all your well-fill'd shelves, yet needed most, I bring,
Forth from the war emerging, a book I have made,
The words of my book nothing, the drift of it every thing,
A book separate, not link'd with the rest nor felt by the intellect,
But you ye untold latencies will thrill to every page.
~ Walt Whitman

(Winds that enshroud us in their folds--
or no wind). So be it. Pull at the doors, of a hot
afternoon, doors that the wind holds, wrenches
from our arms--and hands. So be it. The Library
is sanctuary to our fears. So be it. So be it.
--the wind that has tripped us, pressed upon
us, prurient or upon the prurience of our fears
--laughter fading. So be it.
~ W.C. Williams

(not my father,
by name himself
with his face
at birth)
possessed of knowledge
giving me
what in the instant
I knew better of.
~ Charles Olson

Last week at St. Mark's Church Susan Howe read with Kamau Braithwaite. Howe read two pieces: the first revisiting her poems "Scattering as a Behavior Towards Risk" and "Hope Atherton's Wanderings" from her book *Singularities*; the second, a longer poem soliloquizing the short-lived "New Bohemia" of early 18th century Maryland.

Throughout Howe's books, of course, so much concerns textual histories, and how these histories shape relations of power within cultures and Culture at large. Insofar as Howe's ultimate concern may be for how textual history constructs and constitutes Power, she often privileges academic libraries as crucial institutional sites for textual authority. In *The Birthmark* (1993) and *Pierce Arrow* (1999), for instance, one is struck by Howe's descriptions of Harvard's Houghton library where much of Emily Dickinson's work is held, and practically occulted from all but a few editor's and scholar's eyes. For Howe, libraries are places of esoteric possession and initiatory transgressions; they are also places where the self is continually interpolated by cultural-institutional authority: janitors, police and hermeneutic highpriests. In the preface to *Pierce-Arrow*, the library/special collections of the Yale Sterling library is also like a crypt, a tomb (or womb) space where works of the past remain buried, mummified and deliberately hidden by encoded social behaviors. Rituals of sacralyzing repression constitute a dialect of inclusion and banishment at the heart of the American antinomian controversies grounding Howe's project. Libraries are also part of an ongoing work of mourning pervasive in Howe's work since the earliest books. A work of "working through," of scared and sacred distances, of mediations and memos from a beyond of actualities: facts and percepts near as they are distant.

And yet there is another library in Howe's work, and this library came across to me the other night in the poet's reading of a piece considering her work from the early 90's when she had first moved to Connecticut with her husband, David Von Schlegel, and their family, and, through her husband's position in the Yale Art department, gained access for the first time in her adult life to a major academic research library: the Yale Beinecke. Howe's description of her first visit to the library is poignant. For here the library is less a locus of cultural battles & evaluations, than one of an overwhelming creative clamor: a clamor of becoming, of a natural Univocalism. In her mystical encounter with the Beinecke, Howe appears to feel all the power of Creation itself, the books of the Beinecke stacks practically buzzing with a vital spirit of historical contingency. A dualism of chance and design are imperative for Howe in her descriptions. The books contained within the library stacks, Howe exposits, are the result of a cultural chance-operation, a becoming movement Gilles Deleuze called "disjunctive synthesis" after the philosopher's readings of Frederick Nietzsche's "dice throw". Like Whitman before her, or Emerson or Dickinson, the world is a text insofar as texts themselves are determined by the creative tendencies of all matter--that they are born from the same stock as it were, and extend into the world modally as such.

In the tradition of poets like Walt Whitman, Charles Olson and William Carlos Williams who highly valued the public and democratic spirit of libraries, I take Howe's natural mysticism to be a practical one turned towards actualities and social responsibility. In libraries exists Nature contracted from it's "total" freedom, born from the play of chance and necessity--from History with a capital "H". But the freedom implied by this creation is not enough. The turn in Howe's enthusiastic lyrical essay occurs where she imagines herself wanting to "free" texts from their imprisonment in material conditions of cold storage, and from the fray of confining interpretative permissions; to open them, to give texts back to their original condition of chance, chaos, potentiality. This sense of interpretive and existential opening--an anarchism not so much born from indetermination, as from extreme effort, rigor and sacrifice--I continue to cherish as a student and reader of Howe's.

A Behavior Towards Libraries

Red is a flavor
And blue a waste
That smothers sunlight
And converts us rivallingly

White like heat is not
Sighted or cited to
A blankety something
An everything as were

The words we're stuck with
They compose a library here
And not in the sky a system
Of numbers as arbitrary

As anything elsewhere
We care to call this "scattering towards"
What stacks recall us better
Delimiting Infinity in Fact.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Thought's Torsion

In the letter of March 1663 to Simon de Vries, Spinoza takes pains to declare that the word 'attribute' does not by itself constitute a naming of the 'there is' in any way essentially distinct from the naming of the latter by substance. Having reiterated the definition of substance he adds: 'I understand the same by attribute, except that it is called attribute in relation to (*respectu*) the intellect, which attributes such and such a definite nature to substance. Thus the attribute, as well as the multipliciity of attributes through which divine infinity is identified, is a function of the intellect. In the general arrangement of the 'there is', there exists --under the name 'God'--a singular localization, that of the intellect, upon whose point of view or operations depends thought's capacity for rational access to divine infinity, and hence to the 'there is' as such.

It is thus necessary to recogize that the intellect occupies the position of a fold--to take up the central concept in Deleuze's philosophy. Or, using my own terminology, that the intellect is an operation of torsion. It is localizable of an immanent production of God, but is also required to uphold the naming of the 'there is' as God. For only the singular operations of the intellect give meaning to God's existential singularization as *infinite* substance.*...
~ from Alan Badiou's "Spinoza's Closed Ontology"

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


America comes in like Fortinbras, after the blood-letting is over, to take charge of affairs.
--Pat Buchanan

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Children of Men (*Charis*)

The ontological import of this axiom is clear: the decomposition of a multiplicity always includes a *halting point*. At a given moment, you will come upon an element of the multiplicity whose own composition no longer belongs to this multiplicity. In other words: there is no infinite descent into the constituents of a multiplicity.... The existence of such a halting point stabilizes every multiplicity upon itself, and guarantees that in one point at least it encounters something that is no longer itself.
~ Alain Badiou

Faith and chance dance
In the lone Infinite's eyes
The singular infant's eyes
And the eyes of those soldiers born
Where they lay down their eventual arms

*Charis* or Grace what is this
Force that is not force
*Shante Shante Shante* towns
And compounds pounding
Refugees their sudden and
Unsurpassed truths?

What is this uncertain ship
We each long for TOMORROW
Which appears but never arrives?

We are all falling then
and write our names in these waves.

We are all falling to our graves
but rising from extension.

While intensity is this child
what should we call her?

What is our name
if not "the one from the one"?

Except life-forms
Faith and Chance play
In our eyes again
And their false eyes
The truth of Chance
Is beaten to a pulp
By Necessity

This counts (it counts
and counts) this subtraction
counts (and counts)
and counts (hold me for
the time being
time being this eventfulness

The held infant holds us in this event
The infant holds us in this in this
Event the infant held the infant cradled holds us in
This event
Beholden as such--

It holds us and we drop...

Our guns we drop | our guns the infant
Holding us and mute | the start and stutter
We drop our guns | we are not

Crying | in this event we | are not crying in
This event we are | not crying we are
Shedding ourselves | we are shedding we

Are subtracting | our selves from this event
We singletons and cells | and children with
Deeper | eyes we are subtracting | we are

The event of this | subtraction this event
Is a subtraction | for which we are
And we drop | our guns and

We drop our guns...

We will not cry for this
We will not shed a single one

It matters this tear
Like a beam in the eyes confused
With sunshine or another light

Of first things priorities without
Artillery "his argosies"
Before this sudden test like knights become

Benighted invincible and grasped
By percept sky falls from sky
Shells rise and touch their aftermath

In the place we will not be when the walls fall
*Charis* will only be cell will be
Cell and soon and not soon enough

Journalists of ought and not
Hardly save this night
The will is a zipper
At the end of every plan

Civilization is stone cold
Called adrift to global loaves
Incommensurable like all
Truth what won't be spared

Must remain
Like a call on the other line
Of other lives or like tears
Frozen in time.

This movie is instructive
Of revolution because there
Will be no revelation such as
We plan it it's not as they
Say just that the revolution
Will not be televised it
Will be realized only through
That number that is not numerical
The bullet holes and the shrapnel
Like a music missing us
We are humiliated but then
We are also heard

That is I am interested in
The old dyad Faith and Chance
Makes *Charis* or Grace
Is the place we go when
There is no place left
To arrive and only occur
May say our names like
A cry distantly heard
Through a variant like a fated
Infant women men are then
Their own mothers irreproducible
More original than any cast

Red is a flavor
And blue a waste
That smothers sunlight
And converts us rivallingly

White like heat is not
Sighted or cited to
A blankety something
An everything as were

The words we're stuck with
They compose a library here
And not in the sky a system
Of numbers as arbitrary

As anything elsewhere
We care to call this "scattering towards"
What stacks recall us better
Delimiting Infinity in fact.

I want to grasp
That flower too
That is not her
Then ungrasp it

Like it were me
And not her
Who can see
Everything and hear

The crows just beyond
This line the sure
Beams their eyes
Are shined with

Just before they die
In the hunt but don't really
Because as soon
As we're grasped we're not.

For "not" and not "sometimes"
For "sometimes" and not "somewhere"
Some signs for flight for flight
Is a swerve from Void and matters

Clinamen and Fold--lo and behold!

For "yes" and not "on high"
For "here" and not "sweet-hereafter"
For missed targets and not the real
Politics of corrupted belief.

Total Process (Prospectus)

In Robert Smithson's *Collected Writings* under the title, "A Cinematic Atopia," Smithson imagines a project for what I would like to call a "total process" or "autotelos"**. Smithson describes the project as such:

What I would like to do is build a cinema in a cave or an abandoned mine, and film the process of its construction. That film would be the only film shown in the cave. The projection booth would be made out of crude timbers, the screen carved out of a rock wall and painted white, the seats could be boulders. It would be a truly "underground" cinema.... (142)***

In Smithson's project for an "underground cinema," the work of art displays a total process insofar as it begins and ends with itself--spiralling in its own interstices, self-becoming perpetually--or, in Smithson's case at least, until the film breaks-down, the walls cave-in, entropy wins-out. The idea of a "total process" can be located across art works, and fields of production. I read it firstly in Herman Melville's *Moby Dick* where, besides being a late-Shakespearian allegory and reflection of American Imperialist exceptions, the book entails an encylopedic reference to the whaling industry at mid-19th century told by the book's narrator-documentarian--Ishmael--and the dialogue of the book's other characters.

Other cases that may be made for total process include Dziga Vertov's *Man With a Movie Camera*, where the film moves among frames of reality or "windows" (Lev Manovitch) in order to provide degrees of reflection for film reality. Here we have multiple (if not often combinatory) degrees of mediation. The first being the film itself (what the camera-consciousness sees without reflection); the second what is revealed of the film's making (editing, shooting, staging); the third reception (the audience within the film seeing the film); and the fourth reception of reception (us seeing ourselves seeing the audience seeing the film).

In Georges Franju's *Blood of the Beasts* and Stan Brakhage's *The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes* I observe comparable film forms for total process. Franju's film of course involves a recording (with sparse, accompanying voice-over narration) of Parisian slaughterhouses in the 1950's. In the film, the filmmaker shows various moments in the process of slaughter (the initial blows to the head with a pressure gun, desanguiation, dissection, skinning, hanging). Franju's motivations for making the film are not clear to me (Does he wish to sing a common labor practice, of "our daily bread"; best known for his horror film, *Eyes Without a Face*, does he rather wish to produce shock/terror in his audience through recording actual gore?) Perhaps the motivations (and effects) of this film are deliberately ambiguous.

Similarly, in Stan Brakahge's early 70's *The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes* (meaning *autopsy* in Latin), Brakhage records a human autopsy from start to finish. Where Franju's film is restrained in its camera movement, and uses dissolves and time-lapse cinematography to convey the transformation of the "beasts," Brakhage's film tends towards "real" or "lived" time--with edits only for breaks in the autopsy procedure. What has always struck me watching this film, and even showing it once to students, is how important Brakhage's use of "hand-held" is to lend his "Document period" reality and credence.**** That Brakhage trembles before his subject (and so also his camera) conveys a truth less of "the birth of the clinic" (Foucault), than of the individual envisioning-soul bearing witness to death in its purest immanence.

Another figure who I have considered for this project is Matthew Barney, whose works have fascinated me since I first saw *Cremaster 2* in 2000. Seeing *Drawing Restraint* this past fall (and thinking of Melville) I was reminded how much Barney is exemplary of total process in his use of "molds," his athletic procedures, as well as in the large-scale underakings of his works since *C2* (I can only imagine rental fees and/or legal permissions for use of the Chrysler Building and a Japanese whaling liner).

Whereas Melville or Franju seem put into the service of factuality, documentary and history (despite Franju's somewhat aestheticized narrative, and the deep mythological-allegorical underpinnings of Melville's text), Barney's work differs as a mytho-historicization of Capitalist postmodernity (the Guinness logo of *C3* occupying the same narrative space as CGI ogres and dwarves; Gary Gilmore & Houdini emblamatizing myths of Manifest Destiny & American antinomianism). In *DR* I am less interested by the fact that Barney is "Orientalizing" (a charge many have made against the film), than that he reveals the ultimate cultural mobility of his project. Whereas Barney's most substantial films preceding *DR* (*C2* and *C3*) draw upon American icons, motifs and locations to bear-out Barney's foremost problem of creative process and (self-)becoming, in *DR* these problems are graphed onto Japanese culture. *C2*, *C3* and *DR* are all appropriative & mythologizing, only the latter seems more awkward in this appropriation, less "appropriate" (...I think here of the tea ceremony, as well as the parade that inagurates the voyage of the whaling vessel).

Talking to Kevin Killian recently, he mentioned that Barney refers to his Vaseline molds as "self-lubricating". I had not heard this term before, but it confirmed what I already suspected about Barney: that he is *the* artist of total process/autotelos in our era insofar as his works begin and end with themselves, "self-lubriate," self-transform (think of Bjork and Barney chopping off their limbs at the conclusion of *DR*). The works are meta-historical in this respect. That is, unlike Franju, Melville or Vertov, Barney's works do not refer to a historicity beyond themselves, their processes. Though they employ figures from a popular cultural lanscape (Mailer et al), such figures remain iconic and mytholigically enactive. Yet history may interrupt meta-history in *CR3* and *DR* where I for one can not view the Chrysler building without thinking of the men and women who contributed to its making, and its prominence in the NYC skyline; nor can I can think of any whaling vessel nowadays without immediately imagining it being tracked by Greenpeace and other environmental agencies.

Whereas it has become fashionable in recent years to think of historical structures as containing a primordial element both constitutive and disrruptive of its subjects (e.g.: "The Real" or "traumatic kernel" of Zizek and other Lacanians), perhaps we should also be thinking about historicity as something that interrupts the primordial, mythological, meta-historical, interior and imaginal. In Barney, factuality interrupts a form for mythology and pseudo-ontology. However inadvertent, History is the angel that rushes in to save meta-history from itself. Facts depose mythopoetic enclosures, if only briefly.

*a prospectus for Stacy Szymaszek's reincarnated *Gam*.
**thanks to Eliza Newman-Saul for drawing attention to this term.
***from The Collected Writings of Robert Smithson.
****see the 2002 Chicago Review special issue on Brakhage for elaboration of Brakhage's term "Document".

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sleepy with Gregg Biglieri (@ St. Mark's)

Gregg Biglieri is one of my favorite poets & reading with Evelyn Reilly at the Poetry Project tonight...

22 Gregg Biglieri & Evelyn Reilly
Monday, 8:00 pm
Gregg Biglieri is the author of five chapbooks: Profession, Roma, Los Books, Reading Keats to Sleep and I Heart My Zeppelin. He currently lives in Buffalo, where he is finishing a dissertation on Louis Zukofsky's Bottom: On Shakespeare in the English Department at Temple University. Evelyn Reilly’s first book, Hiatus, was published in 2004. A chapbook, Fervent Remnants of Reflective Surfaces, is just out. Reilly co-curates the winter segment of the Segue Reading Series. She is currently pondering the relation of ecology and poetry, and is editing ((eco (lang) (uage ( reader)), a collection of essays on the subject, with Brenda Iijima.