Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Obsolescence of Lyric

-for Rob Fitterman and Rob Halpern

Antinomy is our coming
Which flips the record again
Revealing the blankness
That was our remembrance
A condition of remembrance
Whomsoever owns the air

Rights to element who will be subject
Some ways that we remained
In common when the bottom
Falls out who will be hailed
Rogue names put the capital here
Put their hands on economy
As though to heal our simple

What voice of lyric what
Voices would resist the doing
Should syntax still be a sacrifice
Like cutting off one’s limbs
While still alive isn’t that
How Rimbaud put it before
He became an arms trader?

I want to amputate this voice
Disable a hole and occupy
What bright absence sensing
You were nearby like a fence
Around a ruin your cool arms
A certain area in a public air

What I dragged around the corpse
Of concepts brand name terrain
Video flashing just far away enough
To seem sublime along the overpass
Where it throws these voices a form
Of night shall lose control

Affect floats before it becomes
Fossilized estranged like bits
Floating lower and lower to
The Logos what rips forms faster
Than the master where the master should be
In all this “experiment”

Lose your taste for poetry
Words won’t be saved
Only your love may be saved
Only what little lights
Of the subject
What work undoes

Place-holders like one
Was the man on their throne
I spits up ways you have identified it
In relation to them
I is flexible, resilient in this chatroom
A social network recedes
And would mean paradise for whom.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Rob Halpern's Disaster Suites is NOW OUT with Palm Press

Below is the ad for Disaster Suites sent to me by Jane Sprague at Palm Press, plus a little excerpt from a double review I wrote last fall for the Poetry Project Newsletter (now available online in a PDF format) on Rob's book and Brett Evans' and Frank Sherlock's Ready-to-Eat Individual...

New from Palm Press:

Disaster Suites by Rob Halpern

"A paradox sets these disquieting Disaster Suites into motion. They produce a music--missing in the count now counts as one--reaching for the disappearance of the conditions that make it audible: war, so-called natural catastrophe, a public sphere where there is no / Public. As in the songs of William Blake and the sci-fi of Octavia Butler, these Suites sing against their own beauty and their seemingly perpetual present, which is why they seem so strangely archaic and futuristic at once.

In complex patterns of meter and rhyme, Disaster's "I" summons its own kind of "counting" against the physics of finance and exchange. Yet the music that results can only be heard--the drowned and the bombed--in between and against the other tracks which Halpern intricately lays down: the signing of capital, the burble of mass media, the daily noise of bodies who work, fuck and love. This stunning book made me fall in love with lyric poetry all over again."
—Sianne Ngai

"It’s hip to be deaf to the larger sounds of our time because the hip want a party, not THIS WORLD as it is! Fuck THAT! I want THIS poetry where the atonal crisis wails and sputters. Negotiate with yourself, it’s your life, in our world, at the line, and the next line of Halpern’s amazing book. Gross profits and grotesque guilty pleas align with the knife here. The stress of our injuries, you can feel your body ache while reading, now leave us to it Halpern, you’ve done your job better than anyone else could! I’m grateful for these poems."
—CA Conrad, author of Deviant Propulsion

"That disaster could be arranged—in the musical sense—for a human voice would be a thing too dreadful to celebrate were it not a realization of what it means to be an instrument of history. In Rob Halpern’s Disaster Suites, the lyric I is a disturbed, disturbing presence in a world we recognize as inadequate but ours, its song a reminder of our dreadful yet beautiful potential."
—Benjamin Friedlander

Disaster Suites by Rob Halpern
Paper, 86 pages
Palm Press
ISBN 978-0-9789262-6-7

Palm Press titles are also available through SPD, Small Press Distribution.

"While in Ready-to-Eat Individual there is a sense that one is being invited into a local conversation, full of anger and frustration and concern, but also emboldened by a sense of solidarity—that people are bound together by the same fucked-up situation—it may be interesting how Rob provides a similar feeling in Disaster Suites, however in a non-localizing way. While Brett and Frank overcome the hardened, ironic voices of empire through a site-specific dialogue—the fact that their book prioritizes local particulars that necessarily touch other localities and global situations—Halpern allegorizes lyrical poetry’s complicity with an entire global network of social disasters which include Katrina, and even become determined by Katrina (Rob’s book was begun immediately after the storm, and completed as the first draft of a manuscript following the death of his close friend and colleague, kari edwards; Disaster Suites’ cover also features drawings, drawn from memory by the artist, after photographs of homes devastated by Katrina), but also encompass movements between sites, and beyond site itself towards all that is being made invisible, occulted by the fatal abstractions of capital.

To trace all that Disaster Suites relates would be too difficult a task for a short review like this one (please see my pieces at Wild Horses of Fire blog, at the Nonsite Collective’s website, and forthcoming at Jacket for more on Rob’s work). There is the Iraq war, the military-industrial complex, organ harvesting, genetic engineering, genetic modification of crops, land use, commodity exchange, labor exploitation—all of the bad effects of a beefed-up neoliberalism. But if I could emphasize a connection between these two books, it is the sense that both are searching for a new relationship between the writer/poem and reader, one mediated by affect, and the affective modalities, specifically, of one’s being related by inextricable disasters across an entire social nexus.

Through affection (which is not the antithesis of irony, and, in fact, probably its complement, or inversion) the form of the poem wants us to feel anew, as well as think anew through some felt aspect or tonality of the poem. Similar to some works by Robert Creeley, or the breeziness of much New Narrative, in the poems of Disaster Suites the reader finds themselves in the throes of a projectivist (that is, breath-based) negative dialectics. But whereas Creeley’s poetry is distinctly straight (despite recent attempts to queer it, such as in many of CAConrad’s wonderful poems from Deviant Propulsion, or Michael Davidson’s and Charles Altieri’s takes on Creeley and embodiment), Disaster Suites opens up to new erotic possibilities—erotic possibilities activated by Rob’s unique person of course, but also by an unprecedented historical situation that lyrical poetry and the arts at large are trying to respond to and find their way out of (as though from the singularity of a black hole). The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and forthcoming in any number of geopolitical “hot spots”; the intensifying regulation of social space; the Siren’s call of the mass media; the anesthetization of large parts of the population..."
—from the Poetry Project Newsletter, December/January 2008-2009

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hollis Frampton back in print

Hollis Frampton's writings are finally back in print, after being out of print since the 80s. Don't be put off by the techey title. Some of the best writings by an artist about their art (photography and film). Right up there with Robert Smithson, among a handful of other gnomes...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I am very pleased to annouce the publication of my chapbook, Our Insalvageable, by the ever-mysterious Vigilance Society.

I am also heartened by Brenda Iijima's generous and concise feedback about the book, which I publish here with Brenda's permission:

"Epic, overwhelming terms are unmade by your delicate uncoiling into a social relation more personal, more local, more immediate than suspended, categorical formalisms. Your poems conjure what is on to and unto: to, until, by. The critiques that are felt here are somewhat obscured or belated by desires that reach out into participatory space seeking rather than proclaiming or stating. The statement being made is that these vital connections are conduits for activism to happen-or these relations are in themselves the activism. The fatalism of the singular despairing individual is rescued by these intimate social connections."

Rodrigo Toscano's write up of "Futurism and the New Manifesto"

Rodrigo Toscano has a useful write-up of the recent "Futurism and the New Manifesto" event at MOMA. Especially interesting is this statement from Luca Buvoli, and Buvoli's use of persons with "speech-difficultues" (aphasia, and other motor-coordination disabilities that affect speech) in his video animation of Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto:

“The centrepiece is the video animation Excerpts from: Velocity Zero, in which sections of the Futurist manifesto are read out loud by people with speech difficulties. The halting, difficult speech of the readers is contrasted with the values of speed and efficiency espoused by the Futurists. As the artist explains, “Marinetti’s original celebration of velocity and aggression from his Futurist text is neutralised by its readers’ speech disorders and my subsequent hand-drawn animation of the footage, which at times delays and overlaps images in mimicry of the Futurists’ representation of motion. The result is a sense of fragmentation and incompletion that parallels the struggle of the readers to capture the original text. The purpose of having the manifesto read by people with speech disorders was to utilise the difficulty of communication and the slowing of language in order to symbolically critique the rhetoric of velocity, aggression and violence in our society.”

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Conceptualism and Intervention: Some Notes after Rob Fitterman

This past weekend I had the pleasure of meeting up with Rob Fitterman, whose book with Venessa Place, Notes on Conceptualisms, I am looking forward to reading. Here are some notes I have been taking since the meeting, if only to organize my own thinking about a Conceptualist nexus in art and poetry.

1. Locate a site ripe/rife with conflict, the nexus-point of a conflictual subject, or incommensurable subject positions. In other words, locate a site of trauma or disaster. What words, selected or invented, can most effectively present what is at stake in this site as a point where the 'symbolic' dissimulates 'the real’? What would it mean to bring certain words in proximity to one another in order to undo the symbolic at the points where it is sutured? ('counter-hegemonic strategies' via poetry/art)

2. The problem, to me, seems one of recognition. Occasionally I catch myself saying something, and knowing that I do not wish these words to come from “me.” Is this dissatisfaction with the way “me” is mediated? Not being in control of the performance of subjectivity (since the subject is ever a performance). Appropriative writings, if they can do nothing else, seem to be able to achieve recognition, which is something different than the “shock” effect of certain collagist practices since Surrealism. One recognizes something, oftentimes, because it is not in the place they expected it to be. Or they find it among different company. So we have to re-cognize it (that is, re-think it). I want to put texts next to or near each other so as recognize anew a series of problems. These problems have to do with a broader recognition of social antagonism as it determines inter-subjectivity (relations among subjects).

3. Why maps are important? [Charles] Olson always took them up in his poetics as facts, or documents. Insofar as maps are always abstractions of a real datum, his diagrams of maps in The Maximus Poems are abstractions of abstractions. Diagramming was useful to Olson because it estranged poetics from figural qualities of language (post-Pound; contemporary with Objectivism). Now language could be graphic. It could do things by being graphic it could not do through figuration. I think also of [Robert] Smithson’s use of maps, which the artist called 'nonsites' and 'logical pictures'. For Smithson maps constituted abstractions of something real and irreducible, whether a landscape or a specific cultural location. To infuse the real and the abstracted with one another (as his various Nonsite sculptures do) was for Smithson a radical gesture insofar as it could begin to reveal the fundamental lacuna of particular cultural locations, not least of which was the location of the New York art marketplace itself.

4. What purpose can maps, diagrams, pie charts, stats and other documents serve within an approriative text? I think of Muriel Rukeyser 's use of stats in U.S. 1, and the Beats via Olson/Black Mountain School who would often draw something onto/into a poem (as if to leave a trace of their bodies within the textures of the printed poem). Tina Darragh’s early books based on mathematics and logic, a(gain)2st the odds and Striking Resemblance, contain various diagrammatic and formulaic visual content. Andrew Levy will often include diagrams and stats in his work—to effective, if not highly ephemeral, ends... How can a stat, map, diagram or other form of visual information have its maximum tactical effect within an appropriative fabric--a selection, “mash-up”, mix or tissue of other appropriated elements?

5. To move anything, to cut and paste, to use up a certain amount of material amounts to something. It makes a difference, has an effect or consequence. If only on the mover themselves—their phenomenology, their metabolism, the physicality of their thinking. To move dirt is an ontological thing (Earthworks/Land Art). To move one’s materials (and have these materials refer to the act of moving) is an ontological thing (Lawrenec Weiner). To move until all movement is exhausted is also an ontological thing ([Andy] Warhol’s films/70s Conceptualist Art, Structuralist Cinema).

6. If exhaustion is a goal of Conceptual poetics, I wonder the use value of exhaustion. As critique of duration? As experiment? As a tuning of one’s attention? Meditation? Warhol’s films, for me, were always a form of abstract painting (painting becoming just barely animated), if not also an excuse for extended contemplation upon a continuous act or object. Empire = Zen serialism. Blow Job = scintillation of the unseen/absent/censored. Kiss = awe before erotic expression.

7. Reappropriation—also a critique of having TOO MUCH (over-production & over-consumption). Re-use! Re-cycle! Or a want to organize what already exists: the archival tendencies of Kosuth’s and Acconci’s conceptualisms. I can’t imagine rewriting or reading the rewriting and redesign of one day of the New York Times (Kenneth Goldsmith’s Day) can intervene in anything except the speed at which one receives/consumes information. If the point is to slow down, “smell the roses” as it were, fine! I accept Goldsmith’s conceptualism as both a phenomenological investigation advancing [Gertrude] Stein’s heuristic writing practice, and a deeply meditative (if not spritual) art. Creating a space where one can attend the newspaper not only as a context (where disparate discourses come together, synch and grind against one another), but as a space invested with different levels of attention. Different modalities—if “close reading” and “skimming” can be considered two extreme modalities of a reader's attention.

8. I don’t buy the term “conceptualism” as a place-holder to describe avant garde practices of the past century. I believe there is only what a text does within particular situations. This is a why I like your phrase 'context creating', and your application of this term to groups that fall outside "mainstream" aesthetic practices (which is to say, aesthetic practices which constitute a dominant, and therefore hegemonic, center). If I take you correctly, the main difference between avant garde practices and mainstream ones is that they must create their readership, and make one’s "self"/art legible to an audience/other/community who may not yet exist. Who, in Giorgio Agamben’s words, may be always 'coming'. Anything that is meaningful obviously has a concept or multiple concepts motivating it that are of value to someone (or should eventually become valuable given the coming quality of any avant garde practice). Otherwise it is not interesting. (And I know this is not what you and others mean by “Conceptualist”). But what’s more important than ideas and/or concepts (by which I believe you mean propositions that should play themselves out until exhaustion, or be adequate by their having been proposed) are the stakes of those concepts within a situation (whether legal, political, ontic, ethical, economic, cultural, aesthetic or otherwise). This is why conceptualism(s), if they should matter at all for social practice, will ground themselves within the larger substrate of interventionist and/or “tactical” art, whereby lyrical poetry (so called), too, may act tactically, as can other "outmoded" mediums such as painting, sculpture, drawing, etc.... What is at stake given any particular proposition in terms of who it will address, and what may be yielded by that address? The term “problematic” sounds stuffy and academic, but I still think we should continue to act upon problems (as opposed to styles, tastes, fashions or, on the other hand, the need for identification, evaluation, and legitimation). Why is one pursuing certain lines of inquiry? To what effect? What’s the next move? Why even make a "next move"? What are the risks in making a move at all? This is the mind-set of artists that poets may also assume (being artists themselves oftentimes).

9. Locating (the) (emergent) subject. One of the greatest uses I can foresee for Conceptualism as a mode of interventionist poetics/art lies in its ability to locate subject positions (see also paragraph 1). Conceptualism's value also lies in its ability to articulate subjects that do not yet exist, or if they do exist have yet to be recognized. And I think this is the value of trawling the internet for content (as you have described part of your process for certain of your works). That a portrait of ideology begins to appear to the trawler. Through recurrence, through association. That, perhaps, subject positions against the dominant ideology also emerge (such as in the chat rooms and forums you mentioned feeling like an “avatar” to). There is something perverted about wanting to sift through these materials, a perverted disinterest very opposite or inverse to lyrical poetry’s own perverse tendencies to disclose, recite, and confess. But I think your perversion is a good one. A kind of ethnographic curiosity, but more importantly a curiosity about what is lurking on the surfaces of language, where language and ideology correlate one another. An art of appropriation in the service of intervention then creates a framework where such voices can articulate a subject position or relation among subjects, as well as the discrepancies that inevitably echo through this articulation. So is one mashing-up, mixing, selecting or merely making legible the subject as an ideological location/(non-)site? Does one direct the performance of the subject in such a way as to reveal the truth of existing subject positions? Which calls to mind a broader question: How does Conceptualism embrace "live art," and the historical relation between (live) performance in visual art and poetry as a discrete investigation seeking to intervene tactically?