This week, you’ll need only your ears to appreciate the creativity of our vintage selection, “Rain.” This piece is an audio-artwork involving the masterful blending of sounds by artist Abinadi Meza. So sit back and close your eyes, or let “Rain” play in the background as you go about your day, and enjoy this fantastic sample of talent from DB 7.
“Rain involves one audio-image slipping into another audio-image, and the onset and exit of each. It is made with a recording taken outside my apartment on a dark and rainy night,” Meza writes of his piece.
Abinadi Meza is an American artist based in Rome, Italy. He works across processes and mediums, with an emphasis in painting and sound art. His work has been presented internationally at countless venues including museums, exhibits, and festivals such as the Blaffer Art Museum in Houston, TX and the Sonorities Festival in Belfast, Ireland. For more of his thought-provoking work, check out his portfolio at abinadimeza.tumblr.com.
(& forever?): The Zibaldone of Giacomo Leopardi. As giant as this “hodgepodge” is (more than 4500 pages of original manuscript written from 1819 to 1832), this book is what Mallarmé would have called an “album” rather than a “total book.” It’s not a daybook exactly, but its essayistic prose reasoning is discontinuous, notes, tryouts, scholia. It leaps and diverges and turns back, from refining speculations of philology and literary history to little disquisitions on variety or tortoises or resistance or polytheism or unhappiness. Everyone seems to be in here, in methodology: Sir Thomas Browne’s correctives of common errors; Montaigne’s self as study; and even, anticipated, Adorno’s minima moralia and Barthes’s semioclasm. The thirteen-chapter (!) introduction and 155 pages of notes are appropriate apparatus for this whole world of thinking.
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. Maggie prefers the term life writing, if there has to be a domain for this somatic, experiential long-form essaying. The book is at once an account of thought and an account of living—step-stoning through a crowd of conventional wisdoms and revolutionary thinkers (hard to distinguish as it turns out), individuating, even shattering (per Leo Bersani) at the thresholds of each passage into: queer, partner, stepparent, and mother. Who makes it through with her? Donald Winnicott, Susan Fraiman, Judith Butler, yep, they’re aboard the Argo. Slavoj Zizek and Lee Edelman, not so much. They can’t seem to hang with “sodomitical maternity.”
Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil. I like this book among a handful of poetry books right now that take their definition as paratext, incidental text to (a score for, notes toward) a performance or an act, an activism. The act in this case is a gesture of self-sacrifice, thirty-one years after the fact, the act of a “black brown girl” lying on the ground in the early minutes of a fatal 1979 race riot on the outskirts of London. The performance is posited, annotated, documented, visited and revisited, and the activism—of this book—is open. “I want a literature that is not made from literature,” she writes, and writes it.
Red Epic by Joshua Clover. How about a propaedeutics for the Revolution? That’s not a line in this book, but it could be. Glib, cynical, and teachy never sounded so good—because it’s never been so swift, salient, and dicey. Capital and the Polis and the Century are addressed head-on—I mean, as addressees of poems. Nobody dares answer back. “We make our way through a thicket of signs. / We make our way through buildings and stanzas and eras inside of which it feels a certain way. / What is that feeling and can we name the metro system after it?” The turnstile clicks throughout, building its rhythm, but Clover makes it count. His best book. I’m rereading it already.
Laodicea by Eric Ekstrand. An inventive, graceful, bodied first book, by a poet with a knack like Philip Whalen or—closer to home—Jonathan Williams for building poems out of at-hand detail and quick-take ventriloquy of ambient history and evangelism. And maybe, too, Muriel Rukeyser, her penchant for biographing in documentary poetry. The poet lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and among its complacencies and “unconsolidated orderliness,” so does his springy, erotic, reparative sentence-work, remarkable in places.
* also. I host a radio show that has a directive to select among the newest poetry from the new shelves, and though I’ve only been at work on it a couple of months, I am excited to include a few poets I couldn’t name above, whose new books I know from that work are triumphs: Alissa Quart, Donna Stonecipher, Tyler Brewington, Maggie Zurawski, and the late Claudia Emerson.
After a short absence due to technical difficulties, we are pleased to announce that the Vintage Series is back in action. Kicking things off is a fabulous work from the mind of Taiwanese poet Hsia Yü. And if the original poem, written in English, weren’t already great enough, it has also been creatively mistranslated into Chinese by machine and then translated back into English by writer/translator Steve Bradbury. For your enjoyment, all three versions of the poem are featured as today’s vintage pick, having been drawn from the mis/Translation section of DB 9, Winter 2008.
Bradbury writes about Yü’s book, which includes the poem featured today: “Pink Noise (?????), is perhaps her most innovative work to date, for it is—as far as I know—the world’s first transparent book of poetry and the first creative collaboration between a Chinese poet and a machine translator. Hsia Yü composed the poems in English (and in one case French) by culling words and phrases from the Internet, and then had her machine translator, the now retired but not forgotten Apple Macintosh web and search program called Sherlock, render them into Chinese, which Sherlock dutifully did but not without reinventing the Chinese language as we know it. There is hardly a line in the Chinese version that is not estranged from its source text, so much so that one could argue that the real poetry in this volume lies in the dífference between the two versions.”
Hsia Yü (sometimes spelled Xia Yu) grew up in Taiwan, but has spent many years abroad. After living a long time in France, she now divides her time between Paris and Taipei, co-editing the avant-garde journal Xianzai Shi, or Poetry Now and working as a lyricist and translator. She has published six volumes of poetry, including Pink Noise, and a Chinese translation of the novel that inspired François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim. Since she published her first poems in the early 1980s, Hsia Yü’s reputation has steadily grown; she is now considered to be one of Taiwan’s most original poets.
Steve Bradbury has been studying and translating Taiwanese poetry for over a decade. He is Associate Professor of English at National Central University in Taiwan, where he edits Full Tilt: a journal of East-Asian poetry, translation and the arts. His work has appeared in Jacket, Raritan, Sentence, and elsewhere. He has multiple volumes of poetry in translation, most recently Feelings Above Sea Level: Prose Poems from the Chinese of Shang Qin (Zephyr Press, 2006).
Right now, I’m reading Emma Ramadan’s translation of Anne Garréta’s Sphinx, that pulsating, ruminative genderless love affair (“I reveled in ridiculing a rival in front of A*** and put on a show of systematic perversity”) published by that intrepid new publisher of translations from out in Dallas, Texas, Deep Vellum Press [http://deepvellum.org/]. I’m also reading Moonward, Appupen’s depiction of a futuristic Halahala land, in a graphic novel now considered seminal in India. It’s a land where creatures are machines communicating in the currency of language, where cyborg avians sweep into metropolises sprung from seeds. Published by South India’s Blaft Books [http://www.blaft.com/], from where I’ve already enjoyed The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction and The Obliterary Journal. I just read, and disliked, Richard Ford writing as Harry Brandt in The Whites; that’s a case where the faux plume do nom of the title tells you all you need to know of the contrivance of the plot you will find within. I’m a noir fan of the Chandler variety, of a Marlowe who drinks gimlets and says “he was a guy who talked with commas, like a heavy novel. Over the phone anyway,” but the granular look at police work notwithstanding, Ford’s simply not in the same league as Chandler, Mosley, Hammett; or perhaps the most apt comparison, his own contemporary, Dennis Lehane. Next, not just because I have some translations of poems by Priya Sarukkai Chabria of Andal, the 8th century Tamil poet/saint, in this book, I have also been reading Arundhati Subrmaniam’s marvelously edited Eating God: A Book of Bhakti Poetry [http://www.penguinbooksindia.com/en/content/eating-god-0].As she writes in the introduction, “there are poems, and there are poems. There are poems that get under your skin and seep into your marrow without your even realizing you have been annexed. There are poems that become a part of the aural backdrop of your inner life, hypnotic and resonant.” If you have any interest in the ancient and holy Bhakti poetry tradition in India, this is the book to read. And finally, I’m reading The Character of Physical Law, Richard Feynman’s 1965 classic. He’s a clear-eyed and affable interlocutor into the inner workings of reality, creating analogies with little presentiment, and like him, “I just remember enough all the time so that as the memory fades and some of the pieces fall out I can put the thing back together again every day.”
This week I’ve read a good number of essays and social media posts that ask, “Why are we still talking about Vanessa Place and Kenneth Goldsmith?” Many of you have talked about them, or talked about not talking about them, with your writerly friends, yes? It’s a good question and it deserves a good answer. In short, when I discovered that Vanessa Place, a visiting summer FIRST Scholar on my university campus, planned on lecturing about the now notorious Goldsmith-Brown performance to my undergraduates, “not” talking about Kenneth Goldsmith or Vanessa Place became a luxury that I couldn’t afford.
I am a full professor in the Department of English at the University of Colorado Boulder campus. I teach poetry, poetics and American literature with an emphasis in Modernism. My scholarly study focused on rhetorical theory and literary criticism. I’ve published six books of poetry and have been awarded a little of this and a little of that for my efforts. Why the CV summary? Last year, I discovered that I am, according to existing records, the first black female full professor in my department. I am the first black female full professor, as well, in the College of Arts and Sciences and only the second on my large research campus of almost 28, 000 students. Since arriving on campus in 2006, I’ve found myself in mediation with colleagues a number of times and have witnessed faculty and students walking out of an interview by a nationally renowned black job candidate before he was nearly finished. I could go on. None of this is unique. I share these stories with other academic writers of color endlessly and they share their stories with me, all similar. We sigh and say, “Me, too.” I don’t mean to infer a noble savage stoicism here a la Clifford Gertz. To the contrary, I have cried into the tissue box on my Chair’s desk more times that I can count because I’ve been called, once again, “the Affirmative Action hire,” despite books, tenure, and the three tenure track positions I had by the time I got here.
So, last week when I discovered the topic of our visiting FIRST Scholar’s lecture, The White Devil and the Black Demon: On Kenneth Goldsmith’s ‘The Body of Michael Brown’, I wrote a letter to my Dean asking him to petition the writer and her faculty sponsor in the Department of German and Slavic Languages, to voluntarily withdraw the intended piece. If you’re not a poet, or if you’re a poet who’s been vacationing in Papua New Guinea for the last few months, Kenneth Goldsmith performed the referent title at Brown University in March and soon thereafter found himself fielding deserved criticism (I am not neutral), anger, and backlash from writers of all demographics. The anger was fueled by his decision to rearrange the autopsy and end with a description of the slain teen’s penis (and in doing so perhaps confessing his own perverse insecurities). Did I say that my daughter turned 18 two weeks ago, or that I tenured on the University of Missouri campus a few blocks from where Michael Brown was gunned down, or that as a young professor I was cursed and screamed at by a St. Louis policeman while walking through a mostly white suburb with the Eurythmics blaring in my ear buds? I repeat, I’m not neutral.
Why a voluntary withdrawal? I have no interest in casting the writer as a victim nor do I have any interest in imposing myself and my politics on the writer. During a conversation that she and I had in the airport on my way home from the University of Montana conference, Thinking Its Presence: Race and Creative Writing, I said to Vanessa Place, who’d pointedly questioned a panelist about the lack of “confrontation” in her discussion, that, as a black woman, there is nothing innovative about confrontation for me. I am expected to be angry and coarse. I am expected to be out of line and uncivil and to be disagreeable. Forcing her lecture to be withdrawn by demand would accomplish little except the satisfaction of knowing the lecture would not be given. I’m sure there’s some metaphor about robbing the bees versus building the hive that escapes me but in order to move forward with dialogic intent we need to engage the Other. In this case, the writer responded by withdrawing her lecture and scheduling a “Listening and Dialogue” session instead. The first 30 minutes would be dedicated to the writer listening with no response to anything the audience wished to say followed by another 30 minute question and answer session. What became apparent immediately was that the audience, though sparse, was not interested in monitored expression nor in expression without an examination of the writer and her intent first. I thought it interesting that not only did audience members decide to ask questions from the start, some audience members informed the writer that he or she would comment with no want for the writer’s response. The prescribed format served primarily as a structure imposed on the audience that would dictate their expression as well as how, when, and where (a lighted podium in front of the stage which every speaker refused) they would express the expressible. The majority of attendees instead left the writer subject to the course of dialogue they determined as opposed to the other way around. If ever there is hope in the matter of racial understanding it will come when we stop confusing stump speeches with dialogue. I don’t believe true dialogue happens primarily when there’s a podium involved.
It may or may not be worth mentioning that I was the only one of two black people in attendance though it is more typical that I am the only black person in attendance wherever I find myself in Boulder, Colorado. There were just a few other people of color, all of whom spoke or asked questions. The writer expressed that her Gone With The Wind project was meant to be an “interrogation of whiteness” in that those racist images and the language of post-bellum American minstrelsy set in the antebellum south “belonged” to her as a legacy of the atrocities that white people have visited on black people in America. Using them, according to the writer, was a means to take ownership and so responsibility for the damage they’ve caused. If we were in a longer conversation I would have expressed that I don’t really care about Margaret Mitchell. She is of little consequence to my 21st century racial reality and there have been so many investigations of the book that you can even find rote discussions of racial politics in GWTW in your undergraduates Cliff’s notes. I am neither worried about fictional civil war narratives concerned with the loss of white privilege nor fictional vernaculars that cast the black subject as subhuman. I care about police brutality, fair housing, eminent domain, voting rights, discrimination, disparagement, equal opportunity, and education. Still, I’ve read references and summaries of some of the work as it appeared in Poetry Magazine (July/August 2009) with an accompanying “explanation,” some of which reads: Place illuminates the many subtexts embedded in the text concerning plays of power, gender, race, and authorship. By ventriloquizing the slave’s voice as well as Mitchell’s, Place also sets into motion a nexus of questions regarding authorship, leading one to wonder: who is pulling whose strings? Is it an oversight that the writer characterizes the work as a project which sets in motion “questions regarding authorship,” and abstractly, “race” in 2009 but as “an interrogation of whiteness” after the Change.org petition protesting her work in 2015? I would be happy to see a version of what the writer calls an appropriation of the text that owned some intersection with the present, that utilized the stereotype in a way that re-appropriated (not appropriated) the minstrel mammy, or that occupied itself with the white subject. Is her “interrogation” an evolution of thought? None of the approaches I mention here would work for the conceptual artist because they each involve some level of expression which begs the question, can any found text really service a racial project or does such discussion, such interrogation, require context and comment? Anything I might say would be complete conjecture; however, I will offer that the only interrogation of whiteness effectively taking white privilege to task was the interrogation of the writer by the audience on the night of Thursday, May 28th, 2015 on the University of Colorado Boulder. For her part, the writer was completely disposed to that interrogation.
During the Q& A, one of my colleagues quoted a recent entry on Ron Silliman’s blog where he reduces the writer’s critics to cowards—and, unrelatedly, the signers of the 2015 petition of PEN members disavowing responsibility for awarding Charlie Hebdo the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award after the tragic and senseless massacre of Hebdo journalists. As a matter full disclosure, I should say that I am one of those 204 signers and I’d expressed my position to friends and colleagues long before the invitation to sign found me by email. My colleague asked the writer if she agreed with Silliman who writes that those opposing her work (and those who signed the PEN petition) are “siding with the very same forces that… banned ‘degenerate works of art’ during the Nazi regime.” According to Silliman, those of us who signed the petition did so because we were “being sensitive.” He echoes many of Place’s supporters who believe the public outcry amounts to emotion rather than reason expressed by spiritually injured people who don’t fully understand the nature of the project. I actually had a professor from another department who was a fan of Place approach me after the session to “explain” the project to me, to explain Vanessa’s intent, and to alert me to the fact that “no one talks about this book this way.” I assured her that many have talked about the racial landscape of the book and black writers have addressed the text for quite along time. I added that the implications of the work did not escape me, a professor of 20th century American literature. I did not say, “By the way, I’m not an oaf or a child and I really don’t need another white hero.” In her question and answer period, Place noted that social media is a place where we are all used to liking one another and following one another and so a project such as hers is controversial because it disrupts that microtopia.
Have you read Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia lately? More specifically, have you read the portions of that text that attest to the lack of civility and intelligence of black people, of our emotional liability in the face of other absent faculties, of our natural desire toward whiteness as that which is more attractive than blackness—not unlike the attraction an ape would have for an orangutan over another ape? While I find problematic the continued reductive reasoning that we’re just an emotional sort of people without the intellectual capacity to really appreciate conceptual projects like those from Place and Goldsmith (i.e., we just want to like and follow and be friends with one another) I find more repugnant the assertion that the commodification of racialized violence as an artistic medium is free expression but the expressed resistance to that art work is censorship. If I am not mistaken, the Nazis killed a few people, stole some assets, destroyed some legacies, blighted a few countries, and wiped out the generational futures of a good portion of Europe. No one can say Vanessa Place or Kenneth Goldsmith have been stripped of their lives or livelihood, have suffered bodily harm, nor that they have become political prisoners for their work as has Ilham Tohti, sentenced to prison for life in China for blog posts. Neither writer has been persecuted in the way any of a number of other writers have (Enoh Meyomesse, Liu Xia, Ayse Berktay, Eskinder Nega … the list of real censorship and persecution goes on and on). Silliman may choose to retract his diatribe or apologize while not apologizing (see the follow-up entry) but his accusations and language were recklessly demeaning to writers who have proceeded with great measure and thought. With all due respect to Ron Silliman whose work I’ve used to inspire young writers for years, if he’d like to state for the record once again that he feels I’m a Nazi coward for exercising my right to free expression, let the record stand in the case of free expression being free based on what kind of chromosomal profile one has.
Rick Smith notes in his interview with Place in The Stranger that she “believes white people need to write about race because their silence on the matter suggests complicity with racism and also is an exercise of their privileged position in society.” Perhaps we should ask ourselves where an interrogation of whiteness begins. I agree with Vanessa Place. White people should write about race. I cannot help but to think in this moment that if the writer were truly interested in an interrogation of whiteness, why not begin here, with Ron Silliman and Charlie Hebdo? Silliman’s comments suppose no examination of Europe’s Islamophobia nor the matter of white desire and white fear colliding with white privilege to “own” anything and everything including the right to desecrate anything and everything, whether it’s my God or my child’s bloody body. The article concludes with Place noting that “Kara Walker uses violently racist imagery to make art about the racial imaginary—the American imaginary. [The GWTW] project does the same thing. Some art offends, and sometimes it is the job of art to be offensive because the world art mirrors and moves is offensive.” We don’t need to track down a Ouija board and summon Cicero back from the long dead to understand the crucial role ethos plays when we initiate, engage in, or participate in dialogues about race. If Kara Walker were a white woman making a sphinx with a mammy head out of sugar, or a white man putting on red face and feathers while doing a “rain dance” as performance art, or a black man desecrating the body of a young white girl with exposed genitals on stage, we’d be having a different conversation.
The matter of writing about race and living to talk about it has much to do with whose race it is that you’re writing about. Are you writing about your own race (really?) or the Other’s? When Mark Twain said “Write what you know,” he substantiated his own advice with text brimming with degrading racial stereotypes and epithets. The writing is his own, his word, his mustered Huck as a facet of the white imaginary. The work was of his time. We regularly use the text as an interrogation of whiteness in the classroom. Talking about race and surviving to tell about it has less to do with shock and pain than it has to do with being of one’s own work, of one’s word, and of a genuine disposition to discuss the matter at hand with ethical concern and a determination that failure in obscurity is preferable to the kind of successful notoriety we’ve all witnessed recently. Do I think Vanessa Place is a racist? No. Maybe. Sure. So am I. I privilege my subject-position unconsciously and strain toward inclusivity. I more acutely consider my language in the presence of white people and measure what I say in order to not be offensive. I rethink my racial privilege each time I’m faced with an alternative racial reality. I think racially—always. I don’t really have a choice. I would rather have a white woman conscious of her whiteness as a racial condition than one who simply imagines whiteness to be standard and normative in the face of my difference. Do I condone the work? No, but I don’t need to. Vanessa Place and Kenneth Goldsmith are free to express themselves through their art and to racial-slur their way to white oblivion if they so choose; however, I don’t have to support them with my personal or institutional funds, nor allow them to have undo jurisdiction or power over me, hence the Change.org petition to remove Place from the AWP subcommittee for reviewing 2015 panel proposals. I do not have to host them or welcome them to my institution or my conference events. These responses to the work are an exercise of my free expression as much as playing roulette with black culture has become an exercise in free expression for these conceptual poets.