Thursday, July 03, 2008

Gurlesque (a few more notes)

A few more ideas (to add to my response to Angela's comment below), following a more thorough reading of the interview:

- I read the word "gurlesque" mainly as "grotesque" - as such my ideas what it represent goes through my canon of grotesque writers (Bakthin, Deleuze & Guattari, Bataille and the Documents group of Surrealists, Artaud, Aase Berg etc) and artists (Bellmer, Artaud, Hannah Hoch, Grosz etc).

- Kara Walker is key to my understanding of this idea. I love her.

- I made a link to Aase's and Matthias' manifesto from 1996 becauase it's a great example of a post-heroic (or post avant-garde) idea of subversion - they're not going to take over the welfare state, they don't speak from a grandiose outside position (as imaged by many contemporary American poets); rather they are going to find the grotesque inside the idyll, use the bodily metaphors of the welfare state to create zones of "lemur"-attacks.

- The trinketry of the grotesque - which I agree has to do with performativeness and gender - is not restricted to women poets. The last issue of Soft Targets was great for this - a class of mine made up a similar concept of "gurlesque" based on excerpts from the journal (Jon Leon, Ariana Reines, Lara Glenum, Nathalie Djurberg and some others).

- The trinketry also for me brings in Andreas Huysen's idea of After the Great Divide - how the historical avant-garde sought to change the relationship between "high" and "low" culture as part of its attack on the autonomous artwork - and Bakthin's notion of poetry as monoglossic (isolated, autonomous, perpetuating the illusion of a centrality to culture/language, "The American Poetry Wax Museum"). But yeah, I didnt have that childhood so I don't know anything about unicorns or Charley's Angels or the Patridge Family.

- The grotesque and (perhaps more so) the gothic have always been viewed as dubious because they have engaged with popular culture - they've been seen as lowly, feminine. Judith Halberstam's book on the Gothic, Skin Shows, talks about this dynamic pretty well.

18 Comments:

Blogger Lara Glenum said...

Yes, yes. And yes. And then even more hissing yesses.

7:36 PM  
Blogger K. Silem Mohammad said...

To follow up on Johannes's and Angela's comments, I think a problem that has arisen with the term "gurlesque" is that there has been a tendency, as Angela notes, for some people to treat it simplistically as a vague trope of empowerment, a naive celebration of surface sassiness or commodified "feminine" "spunk." You might call this reduction of the concept the "you-go-gurlesque." When, on the other hand, as Johannes says, the association with the grotesque is emphasized (and, even more obviously, with burlesque as a mode of social travesty), this introduces one or more layers of perspectival qualification. Irony is part of it, certainly, but not just at the level of camp or parody. For something to be truly gurlesque (as opposed to just trivially "girly" in some lazy postfeminist way), there has to be an element of negative quotation that can--at least in principle--be extended into a critique. Just as with any other style, it's not the conceptual ingredients alone, but what you do with them.

10:45 PM  
Blogger Lara Glenum said...

O absolutely, Kasey! You're completely on to this. In the intro to the Gurlesque anthology, I'll be talking about exactly these things (the grotesque; history of the burlesque as social travesty). As to parody, Baudrillard says (quite wonderfully): "Parody renders submission and transgression equivalent, and that is the most serious crime, because it cancels out the difference on which the law is based."

7:24 AM  
Blogger Angela said...

Don't get me wrong, I love Lara Glenum's work, as well as some of the others who have been mentioned.

Aside from a very small group of very well-educated poets, who really "gets" this? IMHO, if it takes a thorough reading of Bahktin, Baudrillard, Deleuze, Guattari, and the other texts mentioned, then it's ineffectual in its goals. I don't think it pushes the concept far enough for it to be read as parody, camp, transgression, subversion, or the grotesque.

And hasn't this ground been broken before, by women such as George Sand, Frida Kahlo and many others?

I am a huge Hannah Hoch fan, and I cannot by any stretch of the imagination begin to see how the Gurlesque even remotely compares with what Hoch did, or Meret Oppenheim, Leonara Carrington, Leonor Fini, Dora Marr, Dorothea Tanning, Remedios Vara, or some of the male surrealists, such Hans Bellmer, etc.

What about the flapper turning the notions of women on its head?

I know many women in their 20s and 30s who seem to be stuck in this "We gurls can do anything" (Barbie) mode of an idealized childhood of freedom and a lack of preconceived notions of femininity. To do so seems to me, to be in a sense, disregarding the growth one makes as an woman. It's the woman who can maintain that freedom and sexual fluidity beyond her childhood years, such as some of the artists listed above, and represent that in her work who is avant-garde or subversive.

The references to Charlie's Angels and unicorns come from the post itself or photos.

It also seems to me to be a very American notion, steeped in consumerist capitalism, "female as consumer," oriented concept, who gives up her power to the culture of gurlesque kitsch.

Kim Hyesoon -- yes. Now that's turning the notion of woman on its head. But I certainly wouldn't call her Gurlesque.

8:40 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Angela,

It doesn't take reading D&G, Hoch etc - I simply mean I see some of this work in the tradition of grotesque literature and art.

Hoch for example is very much a grotesque-eration of the exhibitional aspect of gender and that's what Lara's work is also largely about.

The pop culture stuff I think deserves to be investigated. I meant that I don't know the references, they're pretty culturally specific. But perhaps you can see something similar to the unicorns Aase Berg's use of guinea pigs. And this is something Hoch and Dada was very much engaged in - to undo the "high" vs "low" divide of art, to bring in advertising etc into "Art".

But I do hear what you're saying and that's why I wrote that it needs to be more than all "girls" join together to swap barbies.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Angela said...

Now this is a contemporary artist whose work I think truly represents the grotesque and she is obviously highly influenced by Hannah Hoch:

Wangechi Mutu
http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/
artists/wangechi_mutu.htm

Maybe I just haven't read enough of Lara's work, or the others to see a writerly counterpart to this.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Angela said...

Ooops: Forgot to say, I would not describe this as Gurlesque. Not in the descriptions I've read of Gurlesque.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Angela said...

One last comment & then I'll shut up: I think it's the word "Gurlesque" that I can't get past.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Angela,

I like it and it's definitely grotesque, but it's incredibly hard for me not to see the connection to Lara's work.

Though the anatomical inside-out is very different from someone like Chelsey Minnis, whose poetry is incredibly surfacy.

Of course those happen to be the two scandals of the grotesque since the Renaissance, when the concept was coined: art that is unnatural and grotto-like, and also art that is too flat and ornamental to be moral.

Also, for me the difference of "gurlesque" and "grotesque" is not that clear. It seems to me gurlesque is the grotesque inflected by the gender situation of contemporary America.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Yes, it's probably the word. I kind of read it mainly as grotesque, but then I miss the more specific critique involving the unicorn and baby dresses and that seems important.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Angela said...

I do see the connection between Lara's work and Mutu's.

But "Gurleseque" is described at Delirious Hem as "a postmodern sense of humor, invoking brand names and cultural ephemera," "a frank attitude towards sexuality and a deep, lush interest in the corporeal," coming through in poems that were "'dolled up' in a specifically girly kitsch." ... "the super-saccharine romance iconography of a 70s girlhood; unicorns and rainbows socks and sunsets painted on vans," ... "in which young women reclaimed both misogynist language—writing “brat” or “cunt,” on their bodies with markers—as well as “girly” costuming—knee-high socks and plastic barrettes—to call attention to the ways in which the mainstream and punk cultures dismiss girls." And Chelsea Minnis was used as an example of the Gurlesque.

It's the super saccharine, the commodified frilly kitsch, and term "Gurlesque" that's my disconnect.

Give me the tubovarian abcesses and Lara's: " Will the howls overreach me before we
Can take off our skin & let it be hung
On a mannequin, spritely fitted? “I
Traffic no cadavers,” said the owl"

Isn't Lara's work a contemporary descendant a line of surrealist women writers and not some "new" branch of literature?

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am glad there is still intellectual space in the world to ignore bossy French dudes. Baudrillard is the last person who should be declaring an act to be criminal, not to mention the marketing executives masquerading as poets that have commented here. But the police exist everywhere now, I guess.

11:34 AM  
Blogger D said...

Since I conducted the convo on the Gurlesque with Arielle, and since the third installment's yet to come, I don't want to proffer my reading on the Gurlesque, or who does/doesn't belong under it's heading, but I do want to say this on the "girl" vs "woman" debate.

If born female into the majority of US American households, one will live 20, perhaps 30 years under the moniker "girl." I don't think it takes a reading of D&G to play around with their conception of "girl" as a subversive, fascinating subject position. And while one critiques the culture, she's still inside it. If the culture insists on powerfully inscribing "girl" on any feminine creature who appears to be under 35, and insists on conditioning these creatures to all sorts of ostensibly spurious tastes (unicorns, sequins, what have you), then why not explore our conflicted relationship of self-type-entity to subject position? It strikes me the worst of second wave liberal policy feminism to eschew it all, to insist that these "girly" tropes can't be read as anything other than surface, or will never engender anything other than the laughter of patriarchy's bankers. All the "girly" commodities and pop culture warrant investigation.

When I don the markings of "girl," which I suppose I do now more in life than in poems, I do it in solidarity with, demonstrating my affinity with, a category of humans I find dangerous, provocative, and full of potential. No (poetry) movement turns patriarchy on its head in a day, but I think shaking off some of the false consciousness that insists on girl (or at least the sort of girl who doesn't wholly resist pop culture) as a laughable non-entity is a vital project.

I also add that some of these poets discussed might actually have considered themselves "girls" when they started writing poems. Not sure this is such a failing.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Angela said...

I'm not representing anyone else's opinions here but my own personal ones -- not any "wave" of feminism, marketing company, police, or any other entity.

7:20 PM  
Blogger Angela said...

I also meant to also say, I'm not so much arguing against what people have proposed as the notion of Gurlesque as I am playing devil's advocate and saying, "I don't see it. Explain how this is new, different, or avant-garde." I'm all for anything but the same ol' same ol' and happy to embrace something that I think is truly new and exciting. Still, I'm not seeing it here.

Maybe it will all become clear with the next installment.

7:30 PM  
Blogger D said...

I wasn't going to comment on the theory itself, but I think there perhaps might be a misinterpretation of the Delirious Hem conversation (so, uh, folks could just go read it! but in case some don't...). I should note that the above quotes aren't Delirious Hem's definition of Gurlesque. They're assembled from the re-cap of Arielle's original conception, our discussion of the 70s as decade, riot grrrl activity, etc. Ie. "the super-saccharine romance iconography of a 70s girlhood; unicorns and rainbows socks and sunsets painted on vans," speaks to some of the tropes providing a cultural foundation for the poets as young children. I don't think Arielle's suggesting that these 70s tropes necessarily must come up in the poems (anyone know a poem about that kind of van? hot!). Nor do I think Arielle at any point conflates the 70s kitsch and riot grrrls with Gurlesque poetry--she's discussing those as cultural climate. The poems react to that climate, and we might of course trace some Gurlesque tactics to the kitsch or the riot, or even see some of this stuff in the poems, but not in a one-to-one fashion.

Honestly, I don't think the Delrious Hem conversation will (should) statically and/or comprehensively define Gurlesque--it's more an exploration of the past five years, and the potential future/evolution of the theory. I think Arielle's & Lara's anthology (Saturnalia 2009) will likely give a much more substantial evaluation of the theory in all its multiplicities.

In the meantime, thanks for the vital discussion, y'all.

11:25 PM  
Blogger D said...

I wasn't going to comment on the theory itself, but I think there perhaps might be a misinterpretation of the Delirious Hem conversation (so, uh, folks could just go read it! but in case some don't...). I should note that the above quotes aren't Delirious Hem's definition of Gurlesque. They're assembled from the re-cap of Arielle's original conception, our discussion of the 70s as decade, riot grrrl activity, etc. Ie. "the super-saccharine romance iconography of a 70s girlhood; unicorns and rainbows socks and sunsets painted on vans," speaks to some of the tropes providing a cultural foundation for the poets as young children. I don't think Arielle's suggesting that these 70s tropes necessarily must come up in the poems (anyone know a poem about that kind of van? hot!). Nor do I think Arielle at any point conflates the 70s kitsch and riot grrrls with Gurlesque poetry--she's discussing those as cultural climate. The poems react to that climate, and we might of course trace some Gurlesque tactics to the kitsch or the riot, or even see some of this stuff in the poems, but not in a one-to-one fashion.

Honestly, I don't think the Delrious Hem conversation will (should) statically and/or comprehensively define Gurlesque--it's more an exploration of the past five years, and the potential future/evolution of the theory. I think Arielle's & Lara's anthology (Saturnalia 2009) will likely give a much more substantial evaluation of the theory in all its multiplicities.

In the meantime, thanks for the vital discussion, y'all.

11:29 PM  
Blogger Max said...

I don't have a problem with "gurlesque" as a category, but I'm not sure it's terribly interesting. It seems to be the literary equivalent of, I dunno, wearing kitty-kat frames, with maybe some little vampire bat action figures attached to them or something.

12:31 PM  

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