Friday, November 30, 2007


Saw great show last night at Marygrove College. Holly Hughes read kind of funny and sweet improv-y piece that started out riffing on "her" "come", "coming," and frustrated relationships. "Her" or "she", in a nice funny perverse twist away from assumptions abut lesbians and sex and queer relationships, turned out to be her dog, which then turned into thoughts on playing with queer identity, and living in Michigan after being a "professional homosexual" in NYC. It was good; she's funny and natural, not like what I expected. In other words, she was way more Michigan than NYC.

But let me back up...I came in a bit after the first performer, Blair, had begun. he was singing a snippet from a Journey song, which immediately made me grin (the "born and raised in South Detroit" song, of course). Then he read a few pieces which were basically about being a queer black man, Detroit's down and dirty landmarks, poverty, desire, knowing someone/yourself. It sort of reminded me of Samuel Delaney. Then he played acoustic guitar and sang a beautiful song and then ended it with this piece called "Dig," which was sort of about telling the truth about oneself. The way I'm describing it makes it sound not that good, but it was actually really amazing. I was very moved not only because he is quite talented--beautiful voice good performance skills--but because it was so heartfelt. It wasn't all that sophisticated (some obvious metaphors, too concerned with his presence) but something about his sincerity and the beauty of some of the lines and delivery and his gestures were just very refreshing emotionally--direct and lovely. I had tears in my eyes when he finished. When Holly Hughes took the stage after him she was just blown away, kept saying "that was AMAZING." You could tell she was a bit startled by being in Detroit and coming across something actually good. She does, after all, teach at U of M (snob central). At one point she said" "why haven't I heard of this guy?" and," I have to follow that?" So that was cool, to see that reaction.

Then there was a stupid interlude where some chick had piled a bunch of rocks and a cluster of rolled gauze bandages in the middle of the gallery space off to the side of the performance stage. She and a few people sat on the floor and started rolling the gauze around the rocks. The audience stood there and watched for a while and then rocks and gauze got passed around and people rolled the rocks together. A rock and roll gathering. Get it? And I'm guessing it had something to do with war. Now I love rocks and gauze is pretty cool too, but I hate shit like that. I want to *throw* rocks when I'm supposed to do something meaningful with them. It was a sophomore art project, but then it also did become kind of fun to stand in the corner with my friend Lindsay and make fun of it and chat and think about gauze and rocks and just hang. So, in an unintentional way, it *was* about community and gathering things together. But the larger commentary was lame. I hate participatory art. "Fuck you! I don't wanna play your art reindeer games." Yeah, that's right..I'm a bad ass.

Finally that ended and it was Carla Harryman, Anna Vitale and Lindsay (aka Viki)'s turn to perform a piece by Carla called "Sue." Carla and Anna read the piece in a double voiced, echoing splitting loud/soft play off each other while Lindsay/Viki had her electronic set up behind them coming in at certain points with noises, atmospherics, rhythms, boops, rattles etc etc. I've seen Carla read this piece before at my friend Lisa's house as a solo and this was a very different way to hear/experience it, which was a nice comparison to have in mind the whole time. Carla reading it the first time solo made it seem like a narrative that, while difficult to follow in its elusive framing as both prose narrative and poetic voicing, held togeher and built a kind of spatial, accretive meaning. This time, with the two other "voices" echoing and splitting it into a dynamic work, it was much more difficult to keep in mind what was being spoken or narrated, sometimes the words were hard to hear even when they were echoed between Carla and Anna. You really had to work to "get" it, but then, because of the way they were reading, the meaning shifted to being about the performance too. Like someone said afterward--I think it was Christine Hume--it was like watching free jazz. So "Sue" was pulled open by sound. (I'm leaving out any direct summary of the piece itself since I just can't do justice to it, but it's really great, so I feel a little bad at my inability to say more about it.)

It was really great to see my friends collaborating. I've just recently met Anna and she's so cool and friendly and smart and real I feel like she's a friend already. Carla and especially Lindsay I've known for a while and it was so nice to see/hear three women I've admired personally and as artists coming from quite different aesthetic and personal places, backgrounds, ages, sensibilities making something together. I hope that wasn't the last time they work together.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

art & evolution

I guess there was (is?), according to a NYT Op-Ed, a "free-wheeling conference" at U of M on art and evolution. A month long conference, it seems. I felt intrigued until I read this:

"In the main presentation at the conference, Ellen Dissanayake, an independent scholar affiliated with the University of Washington, Seattle, offered her sweeping thesis of the evolution of art, nimbly blending familiar themes with the radically new. By her reckoning, the artistic impulse is a human birthright, a trait so ancient, universal and persistent that it is almost surely innate. But while some researchers have suggested that our artiness arose accidentally, as a byproduct of large brains that evolved to solve problems and were easily bored, Ms. Dissanayake argues that the creative drive has all the earmarks of being an adaptation on its own. The making of art consumes enormous amounts of time and resources, she observed, an extravagance you wouldn’t expect of an evolutionary afterthought. Art also gives us pleasure, she said, and activities that feel good tend to be those that evolution deems too important to leave to chance."

So art is "too important to leave to chance? Huh? Evolution, then, is deliberate? I mean, what's the opposite of chance here? I'm sure the article is doing a bad job but I *hate* it when folks try to make art seem more meaningful or interesting by explaining it in evolutionary terms, especially when they don't know jack shit about theories of evolution. And what exactly might that explanation really tell us? I don't care if Martians landed on earth a billion trillion years ago and implanted a DNA code for artistic production or that plants and ticks and monkeys and birds make art too and thus the whole world is one big art project. Ok, the latter example is a jab at Elizabeth Grosz who I greatly admire but who gave a stunningly silly lecture on art and evolution last year at Wayne' English dept. According to Grosz, after a long explanation of environment and something about ticks, it all adds up to--are you ready for this?--art equals "vibrations." Please. Come on...I mean, duh, whatever. *Everything* equals vibrations. The whole fucking universe. It's like a more boring version of string theory. I get it, it's just... so what? What, as a critic, are you supposed to do with that? The meaning of Jackson Pollack's drip paintings? Vibrations. Motorhead's super fast bad ass punk rock metal? Vibrations. Bach's Mass in B Minor? Vibrations. Foghat's crappy rock songs? Vibrations,. Tyree Guyton's urban detritus installations and legendary dots? Vibrations. Please. Kill. Me. Evolutionary explanations for art like Grosz's say nothing *interesting* or specific about art practices--their history, their form, their politics, their pleasure. Evolution, on the other hand, is fascinating.

Well, you know, maybe the article just sucks but it really annoyed me. End of today's rant.

Monday, November 26, 2007

"Filmed by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1979 as Stalker, the Zone is visualised as a Chernobyl-like scarred, postindustrial landscape of ruins, waste, rubbish, of the remnants of industrial civilisation corroded, dilapidated and rapidly being reclaimed by nature . Tarkovsky's version of the Zone has gradually, over the last thirty years, become the foundation of an entire aesthetic. If Modernity, or Modernism, is our Antiquity, then its ruins have become every bit as fascinating, poignant and morbid as those of the Greeks or Romans were to the 18th century. Tarkovsky’s Zone is in some ways specific to the former USSR and a few locations in Estonia, yet practically every industrial or post-industrial country, has something resembling the Zone within it. Such an area would be, for instance, the remnants of industrial districts of East London. Beckton, Woolwich, Stratford, outposts marked by the cyclopean remains of silos, gasometers, factories. These are the places that inspired the Modernists of the 1920s: every manifesto from Le Corbusier's Vers d'une Architecture to Moisei Ginzburg's Constructivist response Style and Epoch had their lovingly photographed silos and power stations. Appropriately, also in the Zone can be found the bastard children of the Modernists, the scatterings of overambitious social housing, with their crumbling highrises and streets in the sky. These are remnants of something as alien and incomprehensible to the seamless mallscape of 21st century Capital, or the heritage Disneyland of European Urbanism, as Shklovsky’s Futurist Martians were to their contemporaries: only here without any of the insurrectionary promise of a new world, merely the ruins of a defunct future." --
read more "Delirious Moscow"

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The uncanny city stroll

from the article "Repeating Making Meaning in Freud and Aristotle" by William N. West--

"Freud gives an example of repetition and meaning more closely related to the tripartite structure visible in Aristotle. In "The Uncanny," written a year before Beyond the Pleasure Principle, he recounts getting lost one summer in an almost deserted Italian town and wandering by accident into the red light district. Embarrassed, Freud "hastened to leave the narrow street at the next turning" (237). After wandering a bit more, though, Freud found himself back in the place he had just left, "where my presence was now beginning to excite attention." Freud leaves again, only to return by accident once more. It is the third time that strikes Freud profoundly and oddly: "Now, however, a feeling overcame me which I can only describe as uncanny." Freud's story expands on Lacan's aphorism in a few ways. First, he shows that the sign of a subject is not always the sign of a subject, or at least not always the subject it seems to be the sign of. The sign in fact produces the subject, but outside of the subject within a spectator--that is, the spectator (mis)recognizes a certain intention in Freud's repeated return. Freud's returning is not a sign for him until his third arrival, but it is a sign of him to the prostitutes the second time he shows up, when he begins to "excite attention." Meaning, then, accumulates out of stupid repetition and coincidence--the first of which Plato fears when he describes the imitator of weather, and the second of which Aristotle decries as a bad plot--but not in the repeater or imitator, only in the spectator. But Freud's awareness of the awareness of the watching prostitutes doubles his own displaced meaning back onto him; their gaze constitutes him as meaningful for himself, or rather he sees what he means to them. In effect, Freud recognizes in himself the split that characterizes the mimetic object. For the prostitutes, he is not mimetic at all; he truly is what he seems, a slightly nervous potential customer suitable for traditional life-instinct relations like cathexis or identification. Freud recognizes this, and the embarrassment he feels is his knowing misrecognition of himself as the abashed would-be client."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

It's About Time

"Gov. Jennifer Granholm has issued an order that bars discrimination against state workers based on their "gender identity or expression," which protects the rights of those who behave, dress or identify as members of the opposite sex.

The order, which Granholm signed Wednesday, adds gender identity to a list of other prohibited grounds for discrimination that includes religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, height, weight, marital status, politics, disability or genetic information.

"State employment practices and procedures that encourage nondiscriminatory and equal employment practices provide desirable models for the private sector and local governments," says the resolution.

The Triangle Foundation, a Michigan-based group advocating rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, praised Granholm's action.

"Coming out as transgender is a career-ender. Transgendered people lose their jobs all the time," foundation policy director Sean Kosofsky told the Detroit Free Press.

James Muffet, president of Citizens for Traditional Values, expressed doubt about the seriousness of sexual identity discrimination in state government. He said Granholm more likely was making a political gesture toward gay rights groups that backed her 2006 re-election bid."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

New Favs: Wooster Collective/ Doris Salcedo

Doris Salcedo is a woman after my own heart. Dissertation/art project idea: Stacks, Mounds, Piles: Aesthetisizing Insane Accumulation... or, uh, something like that. Actually, always wanted to do a pictorial series of all the built material industrial mounds, stacks, and piles of shit in and around Detroit. The industrial wasteland area of Fort St. has these amazing *mountains* of broken glass that glitter beautifully in the sunlight of an apocalyptic landscape. Wonder if they're still there? This image also reminds me of the Cathedral of St Anne de Beaupre in Canada, which has these amazing columns covered with wooden crutches. (Seems there' aren't any photos of it on Google. Odd.

Blog/website for Wooster Collective:

Things I've Lost

Adorable little turquoise ring bought in Arizona by my mother-- age 5 in the local swimming pool. (She never let me forget it).

Small pieces of Petrified Forest rock.

Opal ring stupidly lent to unstable college friend who promptly went "crazy" and was carted off to hospital the day after.

Copy of Michel Leiri's Manhood.

Favorite brown sweater (How?)

Picture of high school friend with my new mohawk and pink blue diejob.

Tape of me and 2 friends both named Heather stoned out of our minds performing various high school gossip rituals, singalongs, insane ramblings--a work of complete mid 80's genius!

One earring of small little woman made of clay. (The other earring--the little clay man--still haunts my jewelry box and bums me out every time I look at it).

Slovenian Grandmother's recipe for plum pudding.

Birth certificate.

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Still reeling a bit after Tuesday's stunning lecture by Steve Shaviro in Barrett's poetics seminar on Whitehead/Olson. (The assigned reading included: selected Olson prose; an essay by Robert von Hallberg on Olson, the Objectivists, and Whitehead; selections from Whitehead; and a few essays by Steve that are available on his website (do check them out).) Doing the reading I'd been thinking about the relationship between Whitehead and Heidegger--how a Whiteheadian reading of Olson's form and poetics might compare to a Heideggerian account. So I was a bit shocked when Steve finished up his lecture with a series of questions addressing the significance of the differences between the two. It was as if he had answered--and warned me about--my sense of their connection and possible affinities. Of course, my knowledge of both philosophers is extremely limited (esp. in the case of Whitehead), but, that being the case, I felt semi-justified in seeing that the connections, though fraught, are there. Steve's brilliant--straightforward and simple yet really significant--lecture, the chance to see him engage with Barrett on a subject he is less familiar with--Olson--was cool. It isn't often that you see two scholars in the department trying to talk across their respective interests; it should happen more often.

And here is an amazing piece from the magazine Cabinet on Heidegger's hut:

"I stood on a steeply sloping hillside deep in the Black Forest, panting, bathed in sweat and covered in mud. A group of llamas had stopped grazing nearby to watch me. After disorientation and fatigue, flying, driving, walking, and running, after springing over an electrified fence and sliding down a wooded slope, after losing my phone, my wife, and my bearings, I had at last found Martin Heidegger's hut."

Read the rest here:

Sunday, November 11, 2007


I get the feeling as I approach the end of my final semester of classes (not to mention a few years into being an instructor) that students are unwilling or simply do not know how to learn. These days they all seem insanely passive, apathetic, intimidated, cowed. I vacillate between blaming teachers, the system, and the individuals. All are to some extent culpable. Even the "smartest" people in class are often hesitant, fearful. Why? What's at the bottom of this mood? I sense that most people have come to expect that they'll be taught everything they need to know/think/feel about the subjects they read exclusively by the professor. They may read the material, but they form absolutely no opinions, ideas, areas of interest, connections, etc., for themselves prior to the class discussion since they expect that the professor will simply tell them what to think about it and *then* they will have learned something.

And it feels like they've been discouraged from thinking of themselves as even having opinions or ideas, particularly when it comes to approaching difficult material. But what I mean by opinion might more accurately be called a questioning and/or desiring mode. Students don't want to bruise their sensitive egos by talking in class and taking the risk of being "wrong." And the evaluative nature of academic institutions just exacerbates their fears, or it's where they learned to be silent in the first place. Ego is, in many ways, the enemy of learning--whether one has a fragile ego or an over-developed one. One can't protect oneself and learn at the same time. Learning demands that one must find a way to "forget," to move outside, to risk boundaries and the demands from outside (or from inside, for that matter). Asking questions of the text means asking the self questions, asking what one thinks and why, and why and how the text makes one think/feel differently. That is, simply put, learning makes the self a question, a site for change and development not reinforcement.
And desire is inextricably a part of learning in that desire is always an undoing of one's self-image, of what one knows about oneself. (I'm thinking of Plato's Symposium here, as an example of how desire and knowledge are united.) Engaging with literature or theory or any text (musical, visual, performative) offers a potentially transformative encounter with the self because it offers a way to explore not only what our own desires are/might be, but because it develops a desiring operation that unfolds who we might be in relation to the desires of the text. A desiring encounter is a performance between the text and the reader that offers the opportunity to explore how the desiring self--rather than the "ego-self," if you will--has been shifted, tested, *poked*. Learning through/with desire undoes the ego-self and provides the occasion for exploring how others might respond; it creates a kind of dialogue with the text and with its other potential interlocutors, offering multiple positions that contrast or inform one's responses and feelings in relation to these others. This is learning. It is always an active, dialogic, desiring, and ego-risking endeavor.

How then does one t/reach desire?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Acker and teaching

I found this on Amazon's reviews of Acker's _My Mother: Demonology_, which is my favorite of hers. The review is fascinating (and helpful for how one might explain Acker's work to students):

Notes from September 9th, 1991: "Acker talked about taking a piece of writing and jamming with it, sampling it, altering it. A phrase, a word, a section. The way jazz is made . . .not interested in the assignment of meanings, of the formalizing academic way. Thinking of working with structures or getting to intuition are similar. . . "
I know that I was exploring many formal things in writing when I encountered Acker (being interested in Georges Perec and Oulipo). I was writing haikus, pangrams, always starting with a structural idea in mind, also being familiar with Queneau's Exercises in Style. Kathy was pushing me to be more intuitive, raw, exposing the unconscious. She emphasized Surrealist types of strategies. She wanted us to write every word and every sentence in an interesting way. She wanted us to explore dreams. Dreams were a big deal with Kathy. I see My Mother: Demonology as one long extended dream.

Kathy wanted us to break through with writing, to reach some key moment, some epiphany, or some crime, whatever. Jill St. Jacques explained this to me as exhausting oneself in thought, coming to a wall, then going beyond, and getting to another wall.

I had been reading some books by Michel Leiris and I had finally got to Guilty by Georges Bataille. Also after reading Illuminations by Rimbaud, I realized what a big influence he was on me, and most of the poetry that I had written between 1987-1992. Surrealism and Rimbaud. The story that I wrote in 1991, "The Seasons," was referring to Rimbaud; and slightly to Jasper Johns. I also wrote a few things in imitation of Leiris.

The next meeting Kathy talked about the writings of Blanchot and Borges. She talked about the "surface story" and what is it about. She made us think about how certain parts work together. Kathy told us to read parts of Rimbaud. I read many of Rimbaud's prose poems. Some of them are indecipherable. I wrote something in response to "After the Flood." It was like a mad lib, substituting words. Our take-home assignment was to take the poem, "Devotion" and to make a story out of it. I wrote something vague influenced by Leiris again. I forgot to do a few of the assignments so I decided to read whatever I had been writing. That would do instead.

Once Kathy was totally bored with our stories. She said that we were not trying to be good enough. We need to really think about what we are doing when we write. She looked at us: "Why are we writing? Why write at all? Writers do not make money. Some writers are beautiful technicians but do not have any soul." Kathy gave us Paul Auster as an example. She talked about Blanchot's "Madness of The Day." Kathy played tapes of music in between what people read. Like two people would read, then a tape of NWA, two more, a tape of Nine Inch Nails, etc.

Kathy Acker's next few writing assignments:

"An ex-lover is dying. Describe what they say to you before they die."

"Write an paragraph on what is happening in American fiction in the 1990s."

"The only thing I want is all-out war."
Kathy Acker, My Death, My Life (p. 233)

Kathy made us read a section of The Unavowable Community and Madness of the Day by Maurice Blanchot. She talked all day about Blanchot, Bataille, and Klossowski.

Blanchot: "The narrative voice is a voice that has no place in the work."

Kathy talked about Acephele which was a group of writers that included Bataille and Laure. Much discussion about origins, identity, ouroboros, labyrinths, transcendence, eternal recurrence and the body.

Blanchot: "Writing is the absence of the work as it presents itself."

Another KA writing assignment: she wanted us to write a film treatment. She also suggested that we take a part of Justine and turn them into a film treatment. Kathy also did a similar thing with her treatment of Dario Argento's "Suspiria" in My Mother: Demononlogy (1993). I later saw another Argento film with Kathy. She seemed to know his films well.

Next she wanted us to bring a foreign language dictionary of a language that we didn't have any particular proficiency in (I didn't take part in this assignment). She made us translate our original text into a foreign language. Then we translated it back into English without help of the dictionary. Kathy was always pushing us into creating nonsense. Does anything exist that is truly random and without meaning? It is a very hard process. Because words can be analyzed and interpreted. She liked the writing to veer off into babble. I think she was exploring the idea of a surface translation, like with some of the French stuff she did with Laure's letters to Bataille and earlier with the Persian poems.

Monday, November 05, 2007


My response to Silliman's dismissal.