I went to see Will Alexander at Beyond Baroque in Los Angeles several months ago. I’d seen him perform before, but not like this, for more than an hour straight in a black box theater, accompanied by musicians playing unfathomable invented instruments. I cannot describe the experience, but since then I’ve been carrying Towards the Primeval Lightning Field (the book of his I’d read first) in my bag, like a portable maelstrom to let loose when the quotidian fails me. “I am positively stained, my sun quavers in a broken density of leptons, of fevers, of mimes, of flaming interior squalls.” Meanwhile, his new book from Essay Press waits on my bedstand.
When I ordered Dispossession: The Performative in the Political a few weeks before I was slated to lead a seminar I had only vaguely planned on the ethics of appropriation, I had that feeling that it would be either exactly the book I wanted to be reading right now or that it would fail completely to live up to my expectations. Though I’ve far from exhausted its 21 sections, I am fully engrossed by these conversations between Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou, which address a doubly valent concept of “dispossession” (its violence as condition and its potential as oppositional strategy) in politically and ethically urgent ways. There is a reason the dialogue form works for teasing out thought from thorns: vigilance lives there.
I want to understand how Michael Nicoloff thinks, so I googled one of the proper names that show up in his new chapbook, Mixed Grill, only to find that it refers to several actual people whose existence is recorded on corporate-owned websites but none of whom appears to have anything to do with poetry, or with Michael Nicoloff. Maybe it’s that experience of occluded clarity in a field of politics that makes me love this book. It has a refrain (the poetics of—) that turns on and then buries its own breeziness in anger and farce and materiality and a habit of asking questions without asking questions. I think we should all read Michael Nicoloff’s poems so “those fuckers / can sleep a little less.”
During a conversation last month with a cultural geographer in which I was attempting to pick his brain about theories of tourism, mobility, and travel, he surprised me by saying that Dean MacCannell’s classic 1976 book The Tourist was still a force to contend with in the field. I hadn’t read it, though I had just bought a copy of the 1999 edition (remaindered at $2.99) with an elucidating foreword by Lucy Lippard. Now that I’m slowly making my way through the book—subtitled “A New Theory of the Leisure Class”—I can see why it’s still in play. Despite MacCannell’s own discomfort, squeamishly noted in his Introduction to the 1989 edition, about writing a book that explicitly treats Modernity rather than postmodernity, this ethnography of the tourist (hence of us all) formulates questions—about desire, coercion, power—that are far from resolved, and encourages by example a (self-)scrutinizing critique not unlike that practiced by Butler and Athanasiou right now.
I seem always to be reading something by Clarice Lispector. The last was Stefan Tobler’s translation of Agua Viva (which I think I’ll always have to keep close), and now it’s An Apprenticeship or The Book of Delights, in a vintage edition translated by Richard Mazzara and Lorri A. Parks. I started reading it the same day I started The Obscene Madame D, by Lispector’s near-contemporary and friend Hilda Hilst (translated by Nathanaël with Rachel Gontijo Araujo), and my readings of these two books by these two irreducible writers are now conjoined. Hilst’s fantastic novel—or anti-novel—was published in 2001, almost a quarter-century after Lispector’s premature death. Reading it makes me long to know what Lispector would have written in the twenty-first century.
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