Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dear Diary

Image: Motor Organ, constructed by friend/collaborator, Tasha Glen
Ingredients (from right to left): 1 power strip, 1 electric turkey knife, 1 "kitchen dildo" (hand-held blender), 1 electric egg beater, 1 motor from a blender, 1 exposed electric razor, 1 unhoused tape deck, 6 contact mics (homemade), 1 mini mixer.  Contact mic each of the household appliance motors & connect to mixer. Each motor has a different tonality & texture; play the on/off switches as piano keys. Works as percussive or melodic instrument


Strange day of ups and downs, thus ornery and yet interested/excitable.  I spent half of the day in the car going to the "pain doctor," 2 minutes of which was the appointment:

Doctor: how are you--is the pain the same?
Me: yes
Doctor: okay, I'll write your prescriptions--so and so will see you at the front desk

I spent the other half, as now the eternal night of the little Olympian purgatory in which I live has descended from darkness into darkness proper, reading as if I were trying to qualify for some event.  I received several wonderful books in the mail in the past few days.  And in a week my new class begins: "Radical Poetry, Poetics, & Pedagogy."  This is exciting.  The students invigorate and teach me, without fail.  These students will spend the first half of the semester working in groups and via lectures on several texts, beginning (not surprisingly) with some Marx and some Freire.   The second half of the semester, after working in groups a bit more, they will, as groups, design and implement their own poetry classes.  I will then take these classes.  Somewhere in there we'll do some (soma)tic work and a PACE action with CA Conrad.I If anyone has ideas for short supplemental readings relating to radical pedagogy viz. poetry, throw em at me.  

So today has involved some wonderful readings, revisiting some books, and cracking open for the first time others.  Of note:

The new-ish Continuum edition of Ranciere's The Politics of Aesthetics is quite good, the translation quite good--it retains that strange admixture of colloquial and super-dense that Ranciere seems always to voice.  But I ask: is there a recent book of theory that does not have a forward or afterword by Slavoj Zizek?  I'm tiring of his reductionisms; they're masked by a self-conscious undermining of whatever he is reducing, but they're there nonetheless.  Zizek's afterword reads like the blurb on the back of the book, which reproduces the kind of bandying about the term "post-Marxist" in  a way that I find deeply dishonest and self-righteous.  A "post-Marxist rethinking of art and politics..."  One must, if one is to be taken seriously as a leftist intellectual, carry the POST-MARXIST GOLD STAR, now musn't they?  What does this mean?  It means "I'M NEW, LOOK AT ME, I'M CURRENT!!!"  and that's all.  "Post-Marx/Lenin" has meaning.  As I can understand that the old divisions between science and art, for instance, or the mistrust of anything that smacks of spontaneous uprising, these are problematic ideas.  But "post-Marxism"?  As if these divisions or mistrusts have encompassed the whole history of Marxism.  Like "post-avant," it's a term of dismissal, as in: "we're past that."  The quip is not unlike me trying to remember what's in the process of happening. Idiotic.

Got my very own Book of Frank (Chax Press), by CA Conrad.  I can't believe I waited this long for this book. The book is extraordinary, so unsettling, naughty, allegorical, and funny at once. And each poem is so economical, and for reasons other than the workshop motto "your poem should be economical."  The bang Conrad gets from each word astounds me.  Just one example, a poem in its entirety (can't do justice to how it plays on the old inside/outside trope, as you can only imagine this poem among others, but itself surrounded by an ocean of page:

   pig says to Frank
   "this fence keeps you in your world"
   Frank says to pig
   "this fence keeps you in your world
   pig says to Frank
   "this fence keeps you in your world"
   Frank says to pig
   "this fence keeps you in your world"
   pig says to Frank
   "this fence keeps you in your world"

Also got the really gorgeous Neighbor (Ugly Duckling Presse) by Rachel Levitsky.  I remember speaking with Rachel about how she felt she was so slow in the writing of this work, or anyway how long it took her.  Well, part of that must be the attention she's paid to what she calls "the architecture" of the work.  I've barely gotten into it, maybe read the first 20 pages of poetry, and already I'm thinking about how to essay on this piece--"here where neither object nor lust arrives along the entering" was in my head as I hit the pillow last nite and thought about what lonesome is, how crowded it gets.  And also arriving this week was Ana Bozicevic's Stars of the Night Commute (Tarpaulin Sky Press).  I haven't gotten to it yet (I sort of read these in a queue), though I have read several parts of it, having published a cycle in Wheelhouse 7. Though each they are so incredibly different from one another, they feel related to me.  Perhaps because I'm writing on Laura Elrick's work and a poetics of spatial practice, with private vs. public and the political vs. the aesthetic, & how these terms translate into and thru each other, complicate each other when focused on in sustained ways, I feel like each of these books, on one of their levels, is doing this complicating.  

Last, just got Frank Sherlock's Daybook of Perversities & Main Events (Cy Gist Press).  I've liked Frank's poetry ever since I read it in journals here and there, what, maybe three or four years ago.  But this is my first sustained interaction.  I've been reading quickly, as I often do, to try to, dunno, hear the degraded aura of it all before getting down to brass tacks.  What surprises me (it shouldn't) is not that these poems wound in overtly political ways, but that the lyric is so strong--and by strong I guess I mean "subtle" here.  A subtle lyric that does weirdly wound, sort of a kaleidoscopic fun house mirror lyric wrapped in the fun house time of capitalism. One of the turns I've come back to thus far:

          Absent versions

lapse into apocryphal war stories warehousing

          perishables & morning loss

Then, I was informed that an author wrote up a blurb ("A triumph!") and stuck my name on. The title of this book is The Ass Goblins of Auschwitz.  This, as one might imagine, did not please me.  Now I ask myself: As Jew who had family perish in the camps, am I apt to call a book with said title a "triumph"?  As in "of the will?"  C'mon.  My sense, too, is this: if yr going to make up a blurb and stick somebody's name on it, why not go for the gold and pick, say, John Ashbery?  Eck.

I did, however, find out about eight years too late (from a friend who worked with us) that friend and former professor of mine in graduate school, the lovely and deeply funny Achille Varzi, gave me a shout out in one of his last books.  Topic?  A bit different from the above: mathematical logics, contextual logics, and topological mapping in the service of talking about the philosophy of events, temporality.  Hot topic, I know.  If you can read Italian, read below.  And then maybe at least visit his website, which is filled with not just mathematical and metaphysical work, but his prose, drawings, jazz.  Any way, a thanks to Achille, with whom I haven't spoken in years, unfortunately.
Parole, oggetti, eventi e altri argomenti di metafisica

L'anfora e la creta di cui è costituita sono una cosa sola? Potrebbe questa stessa anfora essere fatta di un altro materiale, o avere un'altra forma? E che cosa differenzia un oggetto materiale come un'anfora da entità di tipo diverso, come i gesti del vasaio, il profumo della creta fresca, il vuoto che la riempie? A partire da domande come queste, il libro offre al lettore un'introduzione critica ai principali temi di metafisica intorno ai quali si è articolata la riflessione filosofica degli anni recenti: la natura delle cose e degli eventi, le loro condizioni di identità e persistenza nel tempo, le loro relazioni di dipendenza, in generale le precondizioni del nostro parlare del mondo.

Achille Varzi insegna al Dipartimento di Filosofia della Columbia University di New York.

Achille Varzi
Parole, oggetti, eventi e altri argomenti di metafisica

Well, now, on to see if Renee Gladman's The Activist can be excerpted for this course I'm teaching.  Hmmm. Wait, different mouth sound: yummmm.

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