recliner + the orgy

I bought a recliner because I am getting old and I wanted a corner in which to read and write in my notebook. Of course, the recliner is purple. It just happened to be the last surviving member of its species, a discontinued product at the downtown Brooklyn Macy’s, so I got a good deal on it, and hey, it’s purple. But when you live in a small space, the addition of one big piece of furniture means everything else has to shift.

IMG_9571

I had to get rid the weird awkward piece of furniture that was in the spot where the chair is now (isn’t it a sweet domestic scene?) – a kind of giant bedside table with two drawers at a skewed angle, but that entailed finding a space for my tights (I don’t know, a couple hundred pairs? because what if I was missing a color or pattern?), boxes containing miscellaneous items like sunglasses, half-finished packs of gum, matchbooks, barrettes, fake birds, umbrella condoms, etc., and mug holders over which I’ve draped numerous baubles, mainly bracelets… and since there was no space anywhere I had to empty a cupboard of fabric, try (unsuccessfully) to consolidate it with another cupboard of fabric, and get rid of lots of stuff in the process, making the dust bunnies scurry right into my nostrils, ugh.

It’s 11:51, I’m still up. Not trying to write a T. Berrrigan poem here, just saying. Found out today my thyroid is still high, which explains the sleeplessness, let’s hope I can relax soon, but not before I’ve spring-cleaned all 850 square feet of the apartment, you know? And not until I say something about Brandon Brown’s chapbook “The Orgy,” which actually seems to come from a similar kind of hyperthyroid state to the one I’m in now: it’s jazzed, and anguished, but jazzed.I know I seem lately to be mentioning his poems rather a lot, but DAMN, this book is just exactly what I want from poems right now.

Without wanting to say something so hackneyed about a chapbook that its central metaphor “functions on several levels at once,” I don’t know quite how else to put it. That orgy, from what I can divine, seems to hop around on at least four levels, like some kind of mega-disco where each on each floor you can hear a different kind of music but all throb with party energy equally (you know?) So.. the orgy, certainly alludes in some sense to an actual group sex encounter, or something like it (some of the gossip indicates it wasn’t really all that lurid), that actually happened in the Bay Area and has worked its way into a kind of legend; the orgy may also allude to the somewhat licentious (again, this is all secondhand, so what do I know) youth poet party scene there (and is it still like that, or was that a little inflammation?); it certainly alludes to ancient Rome, for our friend Brandon has at least one sandal in those olden days(“Siphoned milk raptors make a smorgasbord/ of Roman history”); it most definitely spreads a metaphorical net onto the orgy of late capitalism in the hyper-information age (“this crystal mall must be destroyed”); and most compellingly, to me, it seems to refer back on itself to the orgy of writing that makes itself felt in every moment of this galvanized, kind of emo (in the best possible sense: “ “My heart struggles./ It’s big as a chard, but it never learns.”) poem. OK, so that’s five ways, maybe there are more.

Its snappy never-fail pacing helps to infuse (I overuse that word, I know, but what else… imbue? I overuse that, too) its abjection and nausea with a bitter and endearing hilarity: all of course the wages of orgy and excess. BB makes such deft shapes out of his misery, that’s poeisis, it’s alchemy, because the poem is so pleasurable, and it’s effective. Reading it, I feel with and for him: Indeed, an enactment of Dana Ward’s marriage of Watten and Watteau, or, as I put it, form + fauve.

The poem has this repeating figure: “For months I was trying to stop the orgy/ but I couldn’t,” “For months I was trying to stop organizing funky honey showers,” “For months I was trying to stop the overflow of with belying underflow of pith,” “There was no way I could stop/ the orgy. It was too big and powerful./ Too many people owned the story/ of the orgy. I had to let the orgy stop me.” “For months I was trying to stop this orgy.” Each time it comes around in the poem I feel the incredible strength of his resistance to the orgy, but also a simultaneous protesting too much, like there’s something about the size and power of the orgy that fascinates him, that makes him feel so keenly pained that it is also almost pleasurable, just as you can feel him pleasurably constraining the orgy of his energy in the poem’s tight form and clever wordplay. OK, I’m not going to give any examples because you know what, this isn’t a “review.” This is an “I’m just sayin’” and plus it’s 12:18 and I REALLY have to try to sleep.

Houri Series

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }.flickr-yourcomment { }.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }


houri1.gif, originally uploaded by Ululate.

What would be of most benefit to this sad girl with the scared eyes? Is she from a reform congregation? Is she one of those feminists? “The women do not need to dance because they are on a higher level than the men.” He squinted a little, trying to hit the right note with this hostile, melancholy American Jewess. He hoped to. “Do angels need to dance?”

I am tired of putting my head onto the bodies in masterpieces for now, so I am starting the Houri Series, which allows me to be exhibitionistic while “commenting on” orientalism, Levantine subjecthood, gender, dance kinetics, etc. The textual additions and Photoshop filters help to make this art, one hopes.

More at flickr, and more to come, unless the PC police get me first.

Chromophobia

lSorry about all of these snippets lately. I’m trying to run this blog on a reduced-calorie basis — just keepin’ it alive while I’m characteristically busy and exhausted.

I really want to write about my new favorite aesthetics book, Chromophobia by David Batchelor. Here’s a choice quote with his thesis in it:

“Chromophobia manifests itself in the many and varied attempts to purge colour from culture, to devalue colour, to diminish its significance, to deny its complexity. More specifically: this purging of colour is usually accomplished in one of two ways. In the first, colour is made out to be the property of some ‘foreign’ body– usually the feminine, the oriental, the primitive, the infantile, the vulgar, the queer or the pathological. In the second, colour is relegated to the realm of the superficial, the supplementary, the inessential or the cosmetic. In one, colour is regarded as alien and therefore dangerous; in the other, it is perceived merely as a secondary quality of experience, and thus unworthy of serious consideration.”

I of course have been thinking about his assertions about visual art in terms of verbal art. I recently sent Ron a comment on a post of his that mentioned Rauschenberg somewhat pejoratively — one brief comment showed up from me there, to which he responded, saying, “I don’t hate Rauschenberg, I’m just tired of being disappointed so often. His problem is that he holds back — he almost always ensures that the customer has something “beautiful” to look at, in case they don’t like the ideas”; the comment I sent in response either got lost in cyberspace or he just chose not to publish it. Anyway, I had quoted a bit from this book and mentioned how delightful was the impact of all that messy exuberant color in the Rauschenbergs in one space at the MoMA last year. I mentioned Rauschenberg having studied with Albers and learning how to understand color really intricately and scientifically. We have an interview with him here at Pratt that shows him talking about his red paintings, and how studying with Albers helped him to really explore the possibilities of a color.

I wondered, was Rauschenberg’s idea color itself? Or “beauty”? It seemed like to separate “ideas” from from what the “customer” looked at was a bit of a form/content split. I also wrote, what would have happened had R. not held back? Would he have covered all the creatures in all the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History with found objects and pictures and messy paint and made what was 2D 3D and what was 3D 2D?

I also wrote in my post that I do feel that there are plenty of poets who write to ensure that the reader has something “beautiful” to look at at the expense of ideas. But what’s the difference between “beautiful” and beautiful? To my mind, a definition of beauty (no scare quotes) would have to include elements of the grotesque, the awkward, the kitsch, the hilarious, not to mention “the feminine, the oriental, the primitive, the infantile, the vulgar, the queer or the pathological” — which brings us back to Batchelor’s remarks on color.

Chromophobia — you gotta read it — makes many of the same arguments I’ve been making on this blog since its inception, only, of course, much more intelligently and gracefully. I don’t have the book here right now, but will post some more choice quotes this weekend if I have time.

My costume is coming along nicely.

Thinking about Suzanne’s recent post at Stephanie’s blog about shyness. It must be excruciating to be truly shy. I think I may be shy, in a way, but I have managed my shyness by morphing it into an extreme and parodic form of self-consciousness. Pure shyness strikes me as a form of hostility in that shy people seem only to be thinking of their own anxiety and discomfort instead of focusing on what their interlocutor might be experiencing. They block the two-way flows of energy between communicators, and to me, this is a kind of hostility. I tell this to my shy students, and sometimes they overcome the worst of their shyness by focusing on the other, sometimes not. I do try to be a model of not-shyness for them so that they can feel freer to communicate. I think I try to do this for the writing community as well, but it’s less easy to measure my effectiveness in that area.

What I do experience that is something like shyness is the horrible sensation, sometimes, of practically seeing my words come out of my mouth and hang there like leaden speech balloons. In an ugly void, where everyone’s staring. Somewhere (maybe quoted in a book review? recently?) I read a passage of fiction that described this phenomenon very cogently. I guess that writers in particular are prone to this syndrome; and I remember never feeling that way so much as in the Bay Area in the 80s. There was something almost pleasurable about that hyper-consciousness, but it was also stultifying. It’s fine to be self-conscious when I say things that come out winsome and snappy, because then I can be charmed by what’s in the balloons, but sometimes, especially when I’m in the midst of some rhetorical battle (not, perhaps, my strongest mode), the statements that come out of me seem wooden, wrong, and other.

Is my extreme self-consciousness in fact a kind of “false consciousness” (a phrase I was reminded of reading a review of abook on poverty in the Times today, in which a woman rationalizes her extreme poverty and alcoholism by saying that she must have committed some grave sins in previous lives)? Am I deceiving myself that I am reclaiming roses and ruffles, and that because everything I do is steeped in performative irony I am not buying into received notions of womanhood? That my parade of images of myself is not in fact a true narcissism but rather a going-to-extremes of self-consciousness in order to work through it, as an aspiring Buddhist might lose himself in alcohol and promiscuity on the way to enlightenment? Aw, hell.