Wednesday, March 17, 2010

McSweeney, Expenditure, Ornamentality, Death

[I'm working on a longer piece about Consumption in Art, Plath, Kate Durbin etc, that I will post later today, but in the meantime I just realized that the best response to Ron Silliman's dismissal of certain new poetries (unnamed by Ron) as "Fashionism" (as opposed to his morally responsible "structure") is Joyelle's essay that was in a Fence a while back. The things I write later about Kate and Plath and Judy Grahn will have everything to do with this essay:]

Joyelle McSweeney
"Expenditure: Or, why I'm going to die'trying"

My non-realist writing is exhausting. It exhausts the sentences. It has no good measure. It starts out formal (interested in genre) but it distends form and makes it sag.

2) When Bataille analyzes society, he divides it into two parts: the productive part, and then "the second part, represented by so-called unproductive expenditures: luxury, mourning, war, cults, the construction of sumptuary monuments, games, spectacles, arts, perverse sexual activity [ . . . ]-all these represent the activities which, at least in primitive circumstances, have no end beyond themselves." '

3) Ladies and gentlemen, we live in primitive circumstances. There are wars of attrition going on all over this planet that have no end in sight, wars which regardless of their recent dates of inception seem immemorial. In place of "immemorial" let's try "expiration date." It's time for the showstopper that brings down the house.

4) Bataille says "the term poetry [ . . . ] can be considered synonymous with expenditure; it in fact signifies, in the most precise way, creation by means of loss. Its meaning is therefore closer to that of sacrifice. "' By sacrifice he means a loss
unto extinction; sacrifice produces sacred objects. Furthermore, "in particular, the success of Christianity must be explained by [ . . . I the Son of God's ignominious crucifixion, which carries human dread to a representation of loss and
limitless degradation."'

5) Or, put another way, there's no success like failure.

6) Some have said that Roberto Bolafio's work, with its many missing, absent, or disappeared artists, thematizes the failure of art to intervene in and alter history, to prevent coups, to make anything happen, but I think his formlessness and archival quality makes a history on art's terms. In the final passage of Amulet, dead bodies extend all the way to the South Pole and back, a parody of a utopian vision that would stretch further; the dead bodies in the fourth part of 2666 dishevel the narrative and even the ability of the genre-here now-to assemble itself. The bodies amount to just carnage and dread of more carnage.
Boring, boring dread.

7) I often talk of my work in terms of form but what the form frames is something else that gapes away from it-in the final fornm of my sci-fi novel Flet the protagonist becomes an archaeopteryx rotting In the desert and that's how the entire second half of the plot is "resolved," or, decomposed in a decomposing artwork that involutes and becomes darkly and toxically capacious. Like the women of Juarez, it can die and die and die.

8) The figure of an accounting is obviously central to the model of expenditure vs. capitalism built up in Bataille, and it's a nice fit with what we're here to discuss today: story-making. The making of an account. The accounting. Should the accounts be measured? Should the balance hold? I think they should take the form to destruction and beyond. Mine will be poorly made, willful, death-leaning. Spend, spend, spend. This does not mean it will be drab, minimal; but maximal, desiccated, well dressed for death. I like archaic things which have already failed or are not destined to survive, failure to thrive, shrift instead of
thrift, a shrivening, a mourning, the lack of sturdiness that pertains to minor genres, the eructations they engender instead of children. As Baudelaire writes of the Dandy:
"Whether these men are nicknamed exquisites, incroyables, beaux, lions or dan-
dies, they all spring from the same womb; they all partake of the same charac-
teristic quality of opposition and revolt [ . . . ]Dandyism appears above all in
periods of transition, when democracy is not yet all-powerful, and aristocracy
is just beginning to totter and fall. In the disorder of these times, certain men
who are socially, politically, and financially ill at ease, but are all rich in a native
energy, may conceive of the idea of establishing a new kind of aristocracy, all
the more difficult to shatter as it will be based on the most precious, the most
enduring faculties, and on the divine gifts which work and money are unable to
bestow. ""
-and he goes on to give as examples the Dandyism of the "savage" tribes of North America.

10) And they all spread from the same womb, the same womb or entrails, and their high fashion, their cloaks and adorned, bulletproof ghost shirts, cover over it until it can't. Which brings us to the topic of camp. And particularly to the figure of Judy Garland, once the girl next store'who always seemed to be singing from beyond the grave, as if her flesh would really melt from her voice at any minute, her body weight and its untidy expenditures the matter of constant biographizing. In the wholesome Sumrnev Stock, the film with which the whole notion of "putting on a show in the barn" reaches its apotheosis, Garland- the-farm-girl stops the show by shedding her overalls and performing a sexy, terrifying, Weimar-inspired cabaret number in only a man's jacket, fedora, and hat. She sings
Forget your troubles, come tm get happy
You better chase all your cares away.
Shout alleluia, come on get happy,
Get ready for the Judgment Day.
This ghoulish hymn to death-in-life is all the more ghoulish for its context-like revolution, it stops the show by maxing it out. Like revolutionary violence, it stops the clock. Death and life touch there. In "real life," Judy fled the set for an eight-week Dexedrine purge midway through the production. She literally stopped the show and remade it in her own artificial image. Moreover, her incarnation of Weimar sensibilities opens an aperture from the awe-shucks splitting onto an earlier and patently ghoulish time. Death-in-life applies not just to the lyrics of the song, which in their manic inability to arrive at
the promised land suspend the "we" in a feverish, plagued inbetweenness-but in its aesthetic ventriloquism of the Weimar period, the decadence that was the recto of the Holocaust's verso.

14) Which is all to say: I may be writing a maximal, dandified, camp, illgendered, millenarian text, for the sentences run on past health to death, a region in which the most blasphemous rituals take place, and they require an undo attention to style, flair, garments, gestures rather than actions and plot, descriptions only of things that never were, an uncanny, transporting voice not tied to any body, around which flesh accrues and decomposes, a text that does not choose life but might acquire it alongside death.


Blogger John B-R said...

I'm wondering if you've ever put your notion of kitsch alongside the work that came out of Warwick's CCRU; I'm thinking of Nick Land (not just on Bataille), Reza Negarestani, K-Punk, the journal Collapse (esp no IV, which is available as a pdf), Graham Harman's association of Lovecraft and object-oriented metaphysics, etc.

It strikes me that what you are calling kitsch is perhaps nothing other than today's realist writing ... I mean, like it or not, the walls that never were really are down ... example: what could be more "kitsch" than the new educational standards for Texas?

8:55 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


Sorry to be slow to respond.I dont' know about CCRU, but I will check it out.

Kitsch: I might not be entirely consistent in the way I use the term. The English language, kitsch. Part of being global language is that it's always turned into kitsch. So yes in that sense we're just realists.

But mostly I use the term to criticize a certain tendency of modern lit to use kitsch as a way to dismiss and marginalize, a way modernism has defined itself in opposition to the flimsy, mass produced, translated, inauthentic. Something that is merely perpetuated by both Ron Silliman and Tony Hoagland ("the skittery poem of our moment").


8:44 PM  
Blogger John B-R said...

Thanks, Johannes. I'm preparing a review of the Gurlesque anthology and your thinking has been especially helpful. (Even if I weren't preparing a review your thinking leads to me thinking and that's always a good thing.)

I agree with your assessment of the way "kitsch" has been used to marginalize, as if there's some purity to protect. Modernism and purity are terms I find together - even if only implicitly - more often than I'm comfortable with. If I understand you, what you call kitsch, TS Eliot called "the Jew": in a series of lectures delivered at the University of Virginia in 1933, later published under the title After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy (1934), he said, regarding a homogeneity of culture, "What is still more important is unity of religious background, and reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable." (I cutnpaste from Wikipedia)

1:39 PM  

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