Reza Negarestani - Cutting humans with alien life

Reza Negarestani,
Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials, re.press, 2008.

Negarestani at academia.edu
At once a horror fiction, a work of speculative theology, an atlas of demonology, a political samizdat and a philosophic grimoire, CYCLONOPEDIA is work of theory-fiction on the Middle East, where horror is restlessly heaped upon horror. Reza Negarestani bridges the appalling vistas of contemporary world politics and the War on Terror with the archeologies of the Middle East and the natural history of the Earth itself. CYCLONOPEDIA is a middle-eastern Odyssey, populated by archeologists, jihadis, oil smugglers, Delta Force officers, heresiarchs, corpses of ancient gods and other puppets. The journey to the Underworld begins with petroleum basins and the rotting Sun, continuing along the tentacled pipelines of oil, and at last unfolding in the desert, where monotheism meets the Earth's tarry dreams of insurrection against the Sun. 'The Middle East is a sentient entity - it is alive!' concludes renegade Iranian archeologist Dr. Hamid Parsani, before disappearing under mysterious circumstances. The disordered notes he leaves behind testify to an increasingly deranged preoccupation with oil as the 'lubricant' of historical and political narratives. A young American woman arrives in Istanbul to meet a pseudonymous online acquaintance who never arrives. Discovering a strange manuscript in her hotel room, she follows up its cryptic clues only to discover more plot-holes, and begins to wonder whether her friend was a fictional quantity all along. Meanwhile, as the War on Terror escalates, the US is dragged into an asymmetrical engagement with occultures whose principles are ancient, obscure, and saturated in oil. It is as if war itself is feeding upon the warmachines, leveling cities into the desert, seducing the aggressors into the dark heart of oil ...

Cyclonopedia by Iranian mysterious philosopher Reza Negarestani is one of the best and most unusual books ever written. Part fiction part philosophy it is mostly an essay, but in such an outrageous mode that all nearby solar systems are stopping their circulations to take a look.

This is a publisher's description:

"Cyclonopedia is theoretical-fiction novel by Iranian philosopher and writer Reza Negarestani. Hailed by novelists, philosophers and cinematographers, Negarestani’s work is the first horror and science fiction book coming from and written on the Middle East.

'The Middle East is a sentient entity—it is alive!’ concludes renegade Iranian archaeologist Dr. Hamid Parsani, before disappearing under mysterious circumstances. The disordered notes he leaves behind testify to an increasingly deranged preoccupation with oil as the ‘lubricant’ of historical and political narratives.
A young American woman arrives in Istanbul to meet a pseudonymous online acquaintance who never arrives. Discovering a strange manuscript in her hotel room, she follows up its cryptic clues only to discover more plot-holes, and begins to wonder whether her friend was a fictional quantity all along.
Meanwhile, as the War on Terror escalates, the US is dragged into an asymmetrical engagement with occultures whose principles are ancient, obscure, and saturated in oil. It is as if war itself is feeding upon the warmachines, leveling cities into the desert, seducing the aggressors into the dark heart of oil ...
At once a horror fiction, a work of speculative theology, an atlas of demonology, a political samizdat and a philosophic grimoire, CYCLONOPEDIA is work of theory-fiction on the Middle East, where horror is restlessly heaped upon horror. Reza Negarestani bridges the appalling vistas of contemporary world politics and the War on Terror with the archaeologies of the Middle East and the natural history of the Earth itself. CYCLONOPEDIA is a middle-eastern Odyssey, populated by archeologists, jihadis, oil smugglers, Delta Force officers, heresiarchs, corpses of ancient gods and other puppets. The journey to the Underworld begins with petroleum basins and the rotting Sun, continuing along the tentacled pipelines of oil, and at last unfolding in the desert, where monotheism meets the Earth’s tarry dreams of insurrection against the Sun."

Here are some blurbs, but this time even blurbs are falling short:

‘Incomparable. Post-genre horror, apocalypse theology and the philosophy of oil, crossbred into a new and necessary codex.’ (China Miéville)

‘Reading Negarestani is like being converted to Islam by Salvador Dali.’ (Graham Harman)

‘It is rare when a mind has the courage to take our precious pre-conceptions of history, geography and language and turn them all upside down, into a living cauldron, where ideas and spaces become alive with fluidity and movement and breathe again with imagination and wonder. In this great novel by Reza Negarestani, we are taken on a journey that predates language and post dates history. It is all at once apocalyptic and a beautiful explosive birth of a wholly original perception and meditation on what exactly is this stuff we call “knowledge”.’ (E. Elias Merhige, director of Begotten)

‘Cyclonopedia is an extraordinary tract, an uncategorizable hybrid of philosophical fiction, heretical theology, aberrant demonology and renegade archaeology. It aligns conceptual stringency with exacting esotericism, and through its sacrilegious formulae, geopolitical epilepsy is scried as in an obsidian mirror.’ (Ray Brassier)

‘Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia is rich and strange, and utterly compelling. Ranging from the chthonic mysteries of petroleum to the macabre fictions of H. P. Lovecraft, and from ancient Islamic (and pre-Islamic) wisdom to the terrifying realities of postmodern asymmetrical warfare, Negarestani excavates the hidden prehistory of global culture in the 21st century.’ (Steven Shaviro)

‘The Cyclonopedia manuscript remains one of the few books to rigorously and honestly ask what it means to open oneself to a radically non-human life – this is a text that screams, from a living assemblage known as the Middle East, “I am legion.” Cyclonopedia also constitutes part of a new generation of writing that refuses to be called either theory or fiction; a heady mixture of philosophy, the occult, and the tentacular fringes of Iranian culture – call it “occultural studies.” To find a comparable work, one would have to look back to Von Junzt’s Unaussprechlichen Kulten, the prose poems of Olanus Wormius, or to the recent “Neophagist” commentaries on the Book of Eribon.’ (Eugene Thacker)

‘Western readers can expect their peculiarly schizoid condition to be ‘butchered open’ by this work. Read Negarestani, and pray.’ (Nick Land)

"Partly genius, partly quite mad ... To sum up: a weirdly compelling read." (Peter Lamborn Wilson)

Last 30 pages of the book are pure philosophical LSD, mechanism of lenses for seeing the monstrous layers of our openness to butchering Outside, Aliens that are eating us. But the most surprising approach that Negarestani is deliriously describing here is that we need to be open to that massacre, to that alien culinary feast. We are here not to resist but to comply with being butchered and eaten. We have to be spiritually and physically clean so that we could be a good meal.

Here is an excerpt:

In both Drujite and Lovecraftian polytics of radical exteriority, omega-survival or strategic endurance is maintained by an excessive paranoia that cannot be distinguished from a schizophrenic delirium. For such a paranoia - saturated by parasitic survivalism and persistence in its own integrity - the course of activity coincides with that of schizo-singularities. Paranoia, in the Cthulhu Mythos and in Drujite-infested Zoroastriansim, manifests itself as a sophisticated hygiene-Complex associated with the demented Aryanistic obsession with purity and the structure of monotheism. This arch-sabotaged paranoia, in which the destination of purity overlaps with the emerging zone of the outside, is called schizotrategy. If, both for Lovecraft and the Aryans, purity must be safeguarded by an excessive paranoia, it is because only such paranoia and rigorous closure can attract the forces of the Outside and effectuate cosmic akienage in the form of radical openness - that is, being butchered and cracked open. Drujite cults fully developed this schizotrategic line through the fusion of Aryanistic purity with Zoroastrian monotheism. The Zoroastrian heresiarchs such as Akht soon discovered the immense potential of schyzotrategy for xeno-calls, subversion and sabotage. As a sorcerous line, schizotrategy opens the entire monotheistic culture to cosmodromic openness and its epidemic meshworks. As the nervous system of Lovecraftian strategic paranoia, openness is identified as 'being laid, cracked, butchered open' through a schizotrategic participation with the Outside. In terms of the xeno-call and schizitrategy, the non-localizable outside emerges as the xeno-chemical inside or the Insider.
... 'If openness, as the scimitar blade of the outside, seeks out manifestations of closure, then in the middle-eastern ethic it is imperative to assuage the external desire of the Outside by becoming what it hungers for the most' (H. Parsani)."
As you see, not an easy read, but it just means that you have to dedicate next 10 years of your life to digest it - as it eats you from within, of course. So what? Do you have any better plans? If you can imagine a hybrid of film Begotten, Deleuze's culinary writtings, Lovecraft's diary, David Lynch's letters from afterlife and Joyce's verbal acrobatics, hurry up - feed yourself with this monstrous book. It will set you sealed.

Over the last few days I've been reading Cyclonopedia. It's an incredibly strange journey through the wormholes, oil pipelines and sandstorms of the Middle East. Philosophically there's all kinds of things going on inside; Islamic and Arabic history, contemporary conflict and geopolitics, archaeology, mythology, Lovecraft, a lot of Deleuzean and - more infuriating and strange even than D&G - (pseudo?)numerology.
The central premise of the book "the Middle East is a sentient entity - it's alive!" is incredibly interesting. The ways in which oil, sand and solar economy have shaped not only Middle Eastern history and politics but global events is considered not as a function of any human sphere of interest but of an anonymous material drive goading civilisations to new creations and corruptions.
My favourite chapter of the book so far talks of Ahkt, the fallen black sun god of oil, and the Blob, the sentient drive of oil to propagate it's slimy lubricant particles. War is not the creation of war machines but vice versa and in the colonial wars of aggression of the technocapitalist nations oil is the aim, the medium and the burning remainder. Tanks fuelled by petroleum and greased by oil role across deserts and oil-based napalm clings to and disfigures landscapes.
As much fun as it is to read I just don't know what to make of the whole thing. The fictional accounts of archaeologist Hamid Parsani and American Colonel West seem redundant, since everyone seems to write in the same mode of Deleuzean auto-induced trance. Whole chapters (if not the book in its entirety) seem wilfully obscure, and I've often wondered how much attention I should pay; is this difficult paragraph an important intervention to a difficult problem, or is he making this shit up? The styling of the book as an edited series of incoherent notes is continued when you try to start researching online. This comment just about sums up the experience: "I haven’t found any other reference to this technique… Did Reza make this up?"
Presumably this blurring of the boundaries between reality, theory and fiction is precisely what Negarestani wanted. Blurring these boundaries further I had horrible nightmares last night and my girlfriend is angry at me for shouting and fighting in my sleep.

Notes on Negarestani’s Abducting the Outside 

Edit: Reza has posted his notes for the first half here.
Reza set up the talk as addressing “Genuine inhumanism” as an encounter with modern thought thereby entailing a dis-enthralled system of knowledge. He set out to do this through a series of thought pieces. These pieces began with an outline of the ambitions of post-Copernican thought to then be followed by a tripartite critique or assault against three conceptualizations of assault (and to propose a more epistemological model of acceleration as a counter). At the same time Reza noted the upswing of the various forms of acceleration he was critiquing.
In proper asymptotic fashion, Reza argued that the charge of Nick Land’s conceptualization was that the ends of reason do not lead to more reason, but simply unfold the unreasonable. Secondly, while Reza seemed to acknowledge the critical/epistemological knife of Brandom and Brassier, he set out their project as ‘axiomatic deaccelerationists’ Thirdly, Reza asked how acceleration could be understood as epistemological mediation which engenders, and is engendered by, germs of modern knowledge. Lastly, Reza proposed a diagrammatic example of modern acceleration as a form of epistemological navigation following the lead of Oresme.

Following this general map Reza began to discuss the ramifications of Modern Systems of Knowledge as he saw them. Structural, knowledge is oblique as it always works from the local to the global and functions in an asymptotic manner (ie the transcendental local can only function asymptotically). Because of this topological constraint [as opposed to something like correlationism?] knowledge can only access objects via the concept of space and therefore one must understand the topoi of thought. In the service of such topological thinking the computational relation between information and knowledge (in the form of computational or iterative myth) must be debunked). This in turn is forced by the 11th commandment – as long as there is a possible path, it is mandatory to take it. Modern knowledge is a thrall to space.
This enthrallment worms its way into the question ‘what is the concept?’ The question becomes how is the concept an information space that can be integrated into the apparently non-informational [the physical, structural, etc?] Here Reza entered into a discussion of Longo’s gestural thinking. [As I am just getting into Longo I cant really do this justice] Gestural thinking works in detecting symmetries as concepts are produced by normativity as geometrical gestures. Because of the importance of the topological for the conceptual, mathematics become the science of the concept since math transfers the invariances as the gesture that has maximal gestural stability.
[To go into the math of the gesture Reza produced two diagrams connecting the relation of information and form, leaping from Aristotelian formulations, in order to illustrate how the question of 'what is the concept?' is overridden by the question 'where is the concept?' leading to a deep ecology of the concept.]

The space of the concept can be thought of in terms of the shell that the snail carries on its own back ie concepts are no longer discrete but are mobile (concepts are the topos of the concept). How does one then locate the concept if it is constantly shifting like a metamorphic protean god? Computational dynamics sees this as the problem as repeated localization whereas it is actually ramifications of the locality of the concept that pushes it into the open.
Here Reza mentioned the Bourne Identity as linking together the where I am with the who I’m I [brings up a tactical vision of the snail] Each question is a new plot line moving through ramified concepts. This engenders a anti-Heideggerian move, roots are always mobile. Following such a model of navigation the transcendental procedure is taken to the extreme as asymptotic due to the structure of the object and the structure becomes restructured asymptotically through the operations of the concept.
Reza then reiterated the agenda of his tripartite critique in which all the targets are guilty of deep access whether machinic (Land), normative (Brassier), political (Marxism).
Land’s accelerationism functions programatically and not epistemologically working towards the Machinic Singularity via the computational regime. Computational dynamics hinge on algorithmic processes whose iterative nature explains its efficacy. Iteration only functions in finite time and hence the speed of acceleration. Against this Reza discussed Poincare’s critique of the contingency of the iterative loop apparent in high frequency trade and the failure of battlespace virtualization. The iterative medium cannot handle contingency but only the pseudo-randomness of Laplace and Hilbert. This pseudo-randomness is bound to Frege’s absolute logocentric formalism and the confines of Hilbert space. Hilbert believed that the world could be broken down into data-cubes. For Hilbert small perturbations were unimportant and interations lead to an increase in precision and therefore the consequences of iteration are meta-predictable. Such thinking should be combated as participating in the metaphysics of necessity. One should utilize infinite contingency against predictability. Turing and Hilbert see the algorithmic process as deterritorializing the entire planet. Small perturbations are infinite and finite and have real consequences down the line.

One should strive for coherency over consistency (which is too normative in the end). The physical world is one of geodesic principles and the straightforward use of information is lost as one must take into account entanglement. Furthermore, the machine algorithm has no place for ignorance. Laws are not a priori given in physical space – they are the result of the observer working within geodesic space. The rational unfolds the unreasonable. Algorithmic thought on the other hand can only answer ‘yes or no’ as its ‘ignorance’ is already axiomatically decided. Algorithmic thinking thereby collapse falsifiability and ignorance. The machinic becomes purely strategic and ideological.
Reza then turned to Brassier and Brandom. The normative turn of certain Sellarsians suffers from an inference problem since norms are by definition recursive and therefore always yield the same result. In this sense normativity is a mode of iteration. Against normativity acceleration should be followed as the catastrophic rearrangement of the limits of the system. Peirce pushes normative though a synthesis of thinking and doing and not a metaphysical enactivism but a form of gesture as a form of action (in the same way as Bertholz). These gestures stem from viewing reason (via Chatelet) as a ration of thought to nature. Reason is the broadening of the scope of oscillation between nature and culture in a rational to and fro-ing. Broader forms of reasoning are required. Abductive reasoning or manipulative epistemology are good mental labs for developing extreme hypotheses. We should embrace violent noetic propulsions which are mutilating as non-neutral observers are imported into fuzzy zones.
Observers are forced to work in a disequilibrial dynamics or twisted contingency but a rational disequilibrium introducing new forms into space. Acceleration responds to the global scope of knowledge – concepts need to be released out into the open (the catastrophes and disasters of Rene Thom) demanding the subject to improvise into contingency. Acceleration functions as the epistemic navigation of the concept space introducing dialectical instability.
Chatelet’s dialectics are a form of alien communication, they are a form of imperfect cutting or dialectical severance as an insider is left in what is cut off leading to a new ratio or intermix of thought and nature. The accelerationist gesture creates cognitive attractors which attracts ignorance as mitigation. Acceleration functions as a means of thinking catastrophes in order to establish a new accessibility. Truth is co-constituitve with error, truth is non-conceptual whereas for Brassier action produces pragmatics with a prestablished relation to nature. An alternative model is that of the long forgotten practice of metis or cunning reason against the regime of simulation as seen in the work of Benedict Singleton. Another promising avenue is the anarchic constructivism of Gabriel Catren in which the thinker or navigator is the gluing together of the rebel and the foundationalist. We should pursue metisocratic reason towards the unreasonable and engage in an ethics of humiliation.

Cyclonopedia is one of those books that drives you ecstatic for being so different from anything you have ever read so far. In this book, Iranian Philosopher Reza Negarestani elaborates a beautiful narrative of the Middle East seen as a sentient and alive entity. Following the tracks of Deleuze & Guatarri’s Thousand Plateaus, Negarestani go far beyond them by granting an alive autonomy to every entities composing the Middle East (sand, dust, oil, plague, rust, war, bullets, rats, corpes, Zoroastrian divinities etc.) except maybe human being themselves.
The text is very obscure and sometimes even esoteric, but the feeling of being lost in it provides even more jubilation when a paragraph becomes vivid for the reader.

Here are some beautiful excerpts (and there are so much more in the book):
“Everywhere a hole moves, a surface is invented. When the despotic necrocratic regime of periphery-core, for which everything should be concluded and grounded by the gravity of the core, is deteriorated.” P50
“Rats are exhuming machines. Not only full fledged vectors of epidemic, but also ferociously dynamic lives of ungrounding. […]
A surface-consuming plague is a pack of rats whose tails are the most dangerous seismic equipment; tails are spatial synthesizers (fiber-machines), exposing the terrain which they traverse to sudden and violent folding and unfolding, while seizing patches of ground and composing them as a non human music. Tails are musical instruments, playing metal -tails, lasher tanks in motion. Although tails have a significant locomotive role, they also act as boosters of agility or anchors of infection.” P52
“A self-degenerating entity, a volunteer for its own damnation, dust opens new modes of dispersion and of becoming-contagious, inventing escape routes as yet unrecorded. In his interview, Parsani suggests that the Middle East has simulated the mechanisms of dusting to mesh together an economy which operates through positive degenerating processes, an economy whose carriers must be extremely nomadic, yet must also bear an ambivalent tendency towards the established system or the ground. An economy whose vehicle and systems never cease to degenerate themselves. For in this way, they ensure their permanent molecular dynamism, their contagious distribution and diffusion over their entire economy.” P91
“If, in middle-eastern tradition, gods deliberately allow themselves to be killed left and right by enemies, humans, or themselves without any prudence as to their future and eventual extinction, it is because they find more significance and benefit in their own corpes –as a concrete object of communication and tangibility among humans- than in the abstractness of their divinity. At last, as corpes, they can copulate and contaminate.” P205

Leper Creativity: Cyclonopedia Symposium, punctum books, 2012.

on vimeo
Essays, articles, artworks, and documents taken from and inspired by the symposium on Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials, which took place on 11 March 2011 at The New School. Hailed by novelists, philosophers, artists, cinematographers, and designers, Cyclonopedia is a key work in the emerging domains of speculative realism and theory-fiction. The text has attracted a wide-ranging and interdisciplinary audience, provoking vital debate around the relationship between philosophy, geopolitics, geophysics, and art. At once a work of speculative theology, a political samizdat, and a philosophic grimoire, Cyclonopedia is a Deleuzo-Lovecraftian middle-eastern Odyssey populated by archeologists, jihadis, oil smugglers, Delta Force officers, heresiarchs, and the corpses of ancient gods. Playing out the book’s own theory of creativity – “a confusion in which no straight line can be traced or drawn between creator and created – original inauthenticity” (191) – this multidimensional collection both faithfully interprets the text and realizes it as a loving, perforated host of fresh heresies. The volume includes an incisive contribution from the author explicating a key figure of the novel: the cyclone. CONTENTS: Robin Mackay, “A Brief History of Geotrauma” – McKenzie Wark, “An Inhuman Fiction of Forces” – Benjamin H. Bratton, “Root the Earth: On Peak Oil Apophenia” – Alisa Andrasek, “Dustism” – Zach Blas, “Queerness, Openness” – Melanie Doherty, “Non-Oedipal Networks and the Inorganic Unconscious” – Anthony Sciscione, “Symptomatic Horror: Lovecraft’s ‘The Colour Out of Space’” – Kate Marshall, “Cyclonopedia as Novel (a meditation on complicity as inauthenticity)” – Alexander R. Galloway, “What is a Hermeneutic Light?” – Eugene Thacker, “Black Infinity; or, Oil Discovers Humans” – Nicola Masciandaro, “Gourmandized in the Abattoir of Openness” – Dan Mellamphy & Nandita Biswas Mellamphy, “Phileas Fogg, or the Cyclonic Passepartout: On the Alchemical Elements of War” – Ben Woodard, “The Untimely (and Unshapely) Decomposition of Onto-Epistemological Solidity: Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia as Metaphysics” – Ed Keller, “. . .Or, Speaking with the Alien, a Refrain. . .” – Lionel Maunz, “Receipt of Malice” – Öykü Tekten, “Symposium Photographs” – Reza Negarestani, “Notes on the Figure of the Cyclone” punctumbooks.com                          

Who invited these people? Classically (and etymologically, too), a symposium involves drinking and good conversation. The model is Plato’s celebrated dialogue, in which the topic of love is on the table. Socrates’s sobriety tempers the mood somewhat, but Aristophanes’s riotous fantasy of primordial togetherness—conjoined human halves doing cartwheels across a mythical landscape—assures that good cheer predominates. Not so here. Ed Keller, Nicola Masciandaro, and Eugene Thacker have thrown a hellish get-together where gooey matter makes it all but impossible for Platonic forms to appear. Reza Negarestani’s pitch-black meditations on oil and the sublunary contingencies it incarnates provide the stuff of discourse and thought.
For the cyclonopediasts, the end of the world has already begun. Since the path between origin and extinction is not a straight line, Leper Creativity charts the irregular but certain course toward annihilation on various terrains. The proceedings do not unfold against a backdrop of what the Middle Ages, still preserving ancient philosophers’ faith in the world and its ways, called natura naturans. Rather, the whole universe seems to have collapsed upon itself. The primeval root of all things lies in the hostile matter that once was sun and light, but now lies thick and congealed in the stagnant, barren earth. Oil is fuel, but not sustenance—the organic turned enemy of life.
Accordingly, the matter of love is a sticky mess. Like so many transsexual Transylvanians, one pictures the symposiasts arriving on iron steeds that belch forth smoke and fire before dancing a theoretical “Time Warp.” The spectacle can be considered inviting and repellent in equal measure. Contributor Zach Blas offers an assessment of “queer openness” that, in his view, often seems as turgid and dull as the beefcake bonehead Rocky Horror. His salutary advice to celebrants of the rainbow is to embrace decay. The rectum is indeed a grave (Leo Bersani), and its heady perfume the immanent hereafter—the “no future” of the surprisingly alive death drive (Lee Edelman). Melanie Doherty, taking up Deleuze and Guattari, sharpens her teeth on the Oedipal fantasies that sustain the likes of Brad, Janet, and other squares enamored of triangular family romances. Discussing cosmic horror fiction, she remarks the corrosive power of the “radical outsider,” who “never appears as a discrete entity or individuated substance beyond vague indications of motion and fog.” It’s a monster, not a choice, and the choice is not ours to make. Love and other “symptoms of transmutation and madness” undo more than a happy couple can bring together.
To get the most from this gathering, the gentle reader is advised not to plunge headlong into the murk, but, like another amphibian dwelling between elements, to move back and forth between spots of (relative) stability and the puddles that bubble up from the deep around which the symposiasts assemble. In so doing, she or he can, without getting too messy, explore Robin Mackay’s reflections on geotrauma, Alisa Andrasek’s discussions of dust and detritus, and Ben Woodard’s investigation of how “onto-epistemological solidity” falls prey to decomposition. Occasionally, as in Kate Marshall’s contribution (“Cyclonopedia as Novel [A Meditation on Complicity as Inauthenticity]”), the question arises as to what exactly it means to immerse oneself in this “world without end.” Negarestani himself offers “Notes on the Figure of the Cyclone” in guise of a conclusion: the “meaninglessness of the free sign,” shooting across the horizon like a comet, is as close as we come to a final word.
One more example will indicate what lurks within the pages of Leper Creativity. “Gourmandized in the Abattoir of Openness” by editor and instigator Masciandaro pairs quotes from the “black metal” musician Xasthur and German mystic Meister Eckhart. The modern and the medieval voices are united by the view that death inhabits life. The “dark night of the soul,” as St. John of the Cross (1542–1591) put it, is the site where human existence, by embracing its nullity, discerns the prospect, however remote, of redemption and something more than what it is—and is not. The baroque-and-Barolo sensibility that Masciandaro and his fellow hosts exhibit is not unwelcoming, but it does involve acquired tastes. Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft are the evening’s sommeliers. As one might predict, canonical party animals like James Joyce, William S. Burroughs, and Kathy Acker feature prominently. But if they occasionally hog the bottle, the spirits keep flowing up from the cellar. It’s not difficult to see in the interstices of the text the presence of other writers whose profiles are generally less familiar. In particular, Otto Weininger, Victor Tausk, and Wilhelm Reich—rogue apprentices of psychoanalytic alchemy—seem to have contributed their theoretical concoctions to the off-kilter mood.
History, Karl Marx famously observed, first occurs as tragedy, then as farce. But what if—as is supposedly the case in a “postmodern” world—history never existed in the first place? What if the events that happen in the universe are simply spectacles to be viewed with earnest terror and pity or, alternately, with bemusement bordering on sinister delight? The latter, it seems, is the perspective adopted by most contributors to Leper Creativity, whose idea of a symposium owes more to Petronius, the first-century satirist of imperial Rome, than it does to philosophical idealism, ancient or modern. Another possibility is that the convivial bunch is raising its glasses to Pier Paolo Pasolini, whose unfinished novel Petrolio nods in a twentieth-century context to the decadence indicted and celebrated by Petronius; petroleum, after all, is the substance that Negarestani and his disciples pour at this version of the Last Supper.
No low-octane drinks are on offer at Leper Creativity, and the crowd can be rowdy. But it’s a party, not a program. A sense of moderation will assure you a little unwholesome fun during the end times that started millennia ago. Whatever it is, it’s (always already) happening, so you might as well try to figure it out for yourself. Plus, in the digital domain, the experience doesn’t cost anything. The universal truth of the apocalypse is that everyone—whether afflicted, anointed, or both—rides for free. Get with it, or get left behind. - Erik Butler 

Another symposium collection, Leper Creativity: Cyclonopedia Symposium (punctum books, 2011) brings together scholars to discuss Reza Negarestani’s world-warping book Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials (re.press, 2008). Not since Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (Pantheon, 2000) have I been so simultaneously intrigued and scared of a book. It is a return to the “hidden prehistory” (as Steven Shaviro describes it) of the dark global forces of the twenty-first century. It is at once philosophical fiction, nomad archeology, Middle Eastern occult study, object-oriented ontology, and straight-up horror, all centered on Western civilization’s lust for oil, the darkest of matters. Leper Creativity sets out to excavate this work’s dark secrets. Their own introductory language reads as follows:
Essays, articles, artworks, and documents taken from and inspired by the symposium on Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials, which took place on 11 March 2011 at The New School. Hailed by novelists, philosophers, artists, cinematographers, and designers, Cyclonopedia is a key work in the emerging domains of speculative realism and theory-fiction. The text has attracted a wide-ranging and interdisciplinary audience, provoking vital debate around the relationship between philosophy, geopolitics, geophysics, and art. At once a work of speculative theology, a political samizdat, and a philosophic grimoire, Cyclonopedia is a Deleuzo-Lovecraftian middle-eastern Odyssey populated by archeologists, jihadis, oil smugglers, Delta Force officers, heresiarchs, and the corpses of ancient gods. Playing out the book’s own theory of creativity – “a confusion in which no straight line can be traced or drawn between creator and created – original inauthenticity” – this multidimensional collection both faithfully interprets the text and realizes it as a loving, perforated host of fresh heresies. The volume includes an incisive contribution from the author explicating a key figure of the novel: the cyclone.
More than worthy of a symposium as such, Cyclonopedia bridges and problematizes the divide between modern, global politics and the dark forces of ancient humanity. Claudia Card (2002) wrote, “The denial of evil has become an important strand of twentieth-century secular Western culture” (p. 28). To deny evil is to deny ourselves, to deny a part of our positive nature. Cyclonopedia digs deep into both sides. It is a triumph in both form and content. We’re dropped into the first hole in the plot as a young American woman arrives at a hotel in Istanbul to meet an online acquaintance with an unpronounceable name who never actually shows up. She finds a manuscript in her hotel room and begins culling its clues leaving her to wonder if her friend from afar was real at all (as Johnny did Zumpano in House of Leaves). “Meanwhile, as the War on Terror escalates,” the jacket copy explains, “the U. S. is dragged into an asymmetrical engagement with occultures whose principles are ancient, obscure, and saturated in oil. It is as if war itself is feeding upon the warmachines, leveling cities into the desert, seducing the aggressors into the dark heart of oil.” As Howard Bloom (1995) explains, “Behind the writhing of evil is a competition between organizational devices, each trying to harness the universe to its own particular pattern, each attempting to hoist the cosmos one step higher on a ladder of increasing complexity” (p. 325). The Middle East is sentient, alive, proclaims the embedded manuscript’s author Dr. Hamid Parsani, dark forces its lifeblood, its story the evil of all of history — human and nonhuman.
“Evil is a by-product, a component, of creation” Bloom (1995, p. 2) writes matter-of-factly. To understand its legion forces, we have to look extensively at the edges between nefarious, non-human history, as well as the insidious inside ourselves. It is in this way that the draw of Black Metal and the study of its ethos is something we cannot afford to ignore. - Roy Christopher

Torture Concrete: Jean-Luc Moulène and the Protocol of Abstraction
Reza Negarestani, Torture Concrete: Jean-Luc Moulène and the Protocol of Abstraction, Sequence Press, 2014.

Reza Negarestani’s essay is published in conjunction with Jean-Luc Moulène’s exhibition, Torture Concrete, September 7 – October 26, 2014 at Miguel Abreu Gallery, New York. The text emerged out of a number of conversations between the writer and artist around the theme of abstraction both as a multi-faceted project in the general domain of thought and as a specific process of artistic experimentation. Negarestani sharply asserts abstraction’s origins as the dialectic between form (mathematics) and sensible matter (physics) and its otherwise flat interpretation in art history, and presents us with the redemptive possibilities for its enrichment and diversification through the lens of artistic practice.
Negarestani calls into question the “self-reflexive history of art” as having embezzled this singular definition of abstraction, so that one can no longer link it to its constitutive gesture or procedural coherence, and locates Moulène’s work safely at the outer-edges of this “impoverished” history. He asserts that for Moulène, “the task of art is rediscovered not in its ostensible autonomy but in its singular power to rearrange and destabilize the configurational relations between parameters of thought, parameters of imagination and material constraints which parameterize the cognitive edifice.”
Moulène seeks to define new objectives for art and to further revise its task using his own working paradigm of topology and dynamic systems. Within the artist's work—the work of systematization of experimentation and producing tools for thinking—Negarestani finds a reassuring pursuit in practice, that of the unearthing of a buried dialectic, and a worthy response to his problematic: “We’ve all heard of abstraction, but no one has ever seen one.”
Both men work in search of a means of emancipation from a tortured position (as writer, artist, human­). For Moulène, making a change to the body, a change from within, works alongside the notion of thought making a difference in the world. But in order for thought to do this, as Negarestani suggests, “first it must make a difference in itself—this is where abstraction finds its true vocation.”

A Review of Jean-Luc Moulène's Torture Concrete by Brendan C. Byrn PDF

Reza Negarestani: The Labor of the Inhuman, Part I: Human
The Labor of the Inhuman, Part II: The Inhuman

The Dust Enforcer: "To live in dust requires a certain degree of demonism..."

Reza Negarestani is an Iranian writer and philosopher who has worked in different areas of contemporary philosophy, speculative thought, and politics. These studies inform his stories, which tend to use the shell of nonfiction forms in a Borgesian way, often as a delivery system for the weird. His most recent book is Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials […]

All of a Twist: An Exploration of Narration, Touching on Negarestani's Novel Cyclonopedia

Reza Negarestani is the author of Cyclonopedia, perhaps our favorite weird book of the twenty-first century.  –  The Editors In order to think narration in a world that is devoid of any narrative necessity  –  an expanding space into which all ideas of embodiments dissolve and an absolute time whose radical contingency aborts any necessary difference to which a narrative can […]

The Gallows-Horse: "In its larval stage of development, it began to fully appear as a...linguistic crypto-object."

With the publication of Cyclonopedia, Reza Negarestani catapulted to the forefront of the most interesting uncanny writers of the twenty-first century. Given that his work partakes heavily of nonfiction forms and of philosophical approaches to The Weird, even though also quite visceral, Negarestani may not be to everyone’s taste. But he is clearly the most […]


Lara Glenum: Organic surrealism galore

Gently Read Literature on Maximum Gaga by Lara Glenum:
"A phrase that popped into my head after reading Lara Glenum’s MAXIMUM GAGA for the first time was ‘post-apocalyptic porno poetry’. Post-apocalyptic because the land of these poems is populated with post-human creatures that are strange mutations of animal and machine. Porno because the land of these poems is riddled with extreme sex acts and meat and teeth and perverse modes of consumption and bodily fluids galore.
Another thought that occurred to me is how it seemed strangely apt that I could abbreviate the title’s collection as MAX. GAG. In a way, this collection seemed like a vomitous outpouring of grotesque hybrids in which misshapen chunks were hacked up into different pieces, also misshapen."

And from Blake Butler:
"In 110 pages Lara Glenum has calcified the remains of what she might have in her sleep licked out of the head of one of the 1500 brains that died trapped inside the body of Gilles Deleuze's suicide, flushed from the spewmater of Lewis Carroll's brain damaged brother's long-rotten LSD baked corpse, and churned together with the sugars of recalled candy wiped out whole middle schools in Japan.
These are poems that as they create their world among the lines become banned inside the created land as soon as the land therein hears itself.
The terrain of the book is filled with malformed sexual machines, Sade-ian cartoon demons with child names like Minky Momo and Seven Cunt Mary and the Bull. There is a stage play that seems implicating in and on the poems as if by quasi-candied-dictatorial reign, which then scourges itself in and of the poems as if it is one of them."

And this is from Maximum Gaga:
"The vagina is found in divers Manners, and with divers Ornaments. Many of them provide the finest Articulations, and Foldings, for the Wings to be withdrawn, and neatly laid up inside. Occasionally the petiole embraces the branch from which it springs. The Empalement, which commonly rises out of a membranous vagina. The embryio dracunculi, it is sad, will quit the body of the vaginaless parent worm. Sometimes soldiers lie together like teeth crouching in a perfect labia. The fibers of their leg muscles are then distinguished by crenellated or adipose septa, as by so many peculiar vaginae. The vagina's variants in North America alone are innumerable, the most important being the entrance to heaven, snapping doors."

And this is Lara Glenum's manifesto:
Manifesto of the Anti-Real
1. Art is neither a form of consolation nor a butler to hegemonies. Even in its most discreet moments, art explodes.
2. The Anti-Real does not deny the Real.* The Anti-Real knows that everything is in annihilation in the Sublime. The Anti-Real is that which seeks to manifest itself through the secret side-door to the Sublime rather than through the mock world of realism.
3. Realism is the bordello of those who would have their perceptions affirmed rather than dilated. When the door of fascism is opened, Realism will be seen lounging like a whore in its inner sanctum.
4. The Apocalypse is a way of thinking. Only the Apocalyptic clock announces from atop the grotesque pile of refuse, 'The Kingdom of Heaven is now.'
5. Irony is not a device. It is a state of being.
6. To be Anti-Real is not to be Surreal. The achievement of Surrealism lies in displacing correspondences, in the poem not arriving. In the Anti-Real, all assumptions are disabled, too, with one difference: the Anti-Real displaces causal logic with a totalizing logic of violence.
7. ‘Defile! Defile!’ shriek the Obliterati as they vandalize the museum of language.
8. Sentimentality is a form of exploitation, a connivance with official lies. Hang sentimentality on the gallows of Emergency.
*Even though the Real does not exist

"Singing chorus of fetuses" doing lap dance, screaming of desire comes across the mutant sky. Prepare for the joy of the worst!


Lara Glenum, Pop Corpse, Action Books, 2013.

Pop Corpse by Lara Glenum is a wildly entertaining book. A retelling of both the Hans Christian Andersen text and the Disney movie, the book follows XXX, youngest and most troublesome of the daughters of the King of the Sea, as she pursues, through a predatory and trashed and glittery world, her all-consuming dream of getting her very own sex organ, so as to fuck The Smear-né-Prince, most perverted of the Land-Dwellers.
Glenum, author of The Hounds of No and The Gurlesque opus Maximum Gaga, is a master of subverting taste buds, though her monstrous imagination has for sure frightened timid readers off after a page or two. This is a mistake on said readers’ part. Pop Corpse is an aggressive and shocking work. It is also a brave and ambitious work that does not limit its innovation the realms of narrative and language.
PC opens with a Hans Christian Andersen epigraph, followed by the bracketed, all-caps declaration: “[THIS POEM IS MY VOCAL PROSTHESIS]”, and wingdings of an all-black speech bubble and a kind of surprised looking fish. The next page literally sets the scene. “SCENE: There is no land. Only floating islands of plastic garbage.” The four pages that follow serve as ars poetica, lyric, and carnival barker—“I am trying to speak in a different register/ The register of candied decay”; “My suffering has become frivolous & ornamental”; “U are hereby invited to wars of attrition/ & other show stoppers”. Glenum is accomplishing a lot with these few sparsely populated pages. We are given a solid context for the play to come—the HCA excerpt—a personal context for the author that claims a deep investment in the irony of the telling, and, via text-message shorthand, a relatively lite introduction to the language of the book. At the same time, Glenum is holding the reader back from immersion in the story—in fact, continuing on with a waist-deep “Opening Score” in which the voice is stuck partway, both lyrically above-it-all and yet bounded by the world of the story—so to milk even the initial “I’m just starting to read a book of poetry”-space. By this I mean many books, including Glenum’s first two, ask the reader throw his or herself right into the full language and cosmology of the poems; PC begins surfaced in the real world and reels the reader down into itself. This approach acts in part as assurance that we are in good hands, that here is skill and here is purpose—a trust-me-this-will-only-hurt-a-little gesture that is necessary because the instruments the poem is played on are not, you know, lyres and guitars and church organs. It’s played on Tibetan skulls, Dance Dance Revolution pads, organ organs. And I mean, yes, you’re reading Octopus. But think about those poor, easily shaken people reading New England Review. PC is, in these first pages, applying lube to the reader and letting us in real slow.
Much has been written of Glenum’s poetics’ politics. Essentially, they’re radical. “Feminine” identity is corrupted. Nostalgia stapled to the mass graves. Tastefulness surviving with Shepard Fairey’s “HOPE” poster as a human centipede. The pastoral bukkake-d. Not nearly enough has been written about Glenum’s poetic innovations, partly because they are, like any innovation, difficult, and partly because it’s so fun to riff on such an “avantcore” language space. This has left some the impression, if Goodreads reviews are any indication, that Glenum’s prime skill is shock; that her poems, because they’re often loud, are easy. That the pleasures are only ironic. And this is what “kitsch”—see: nearly like a third of the posts on Montevidayo—one of the major planks of the “Gurlesque”—see: another third of the posts on Montevidayo—suggests. The detritus of our world is so numerous and braindead—the Pacific trash vortex thru mini-malls thru herbal supplement infomercials on 93.9 KPDQ Life Changing Christian Radio—that perhaps this consumption—of material, fashion, people—is not just our inheritance but our true desire. Beauty is trash, truth booty. And PC does make this case. The world, post “Disaster” is plastic garbage, “{The people on land.} {Look like large hunks of uncooked bacon} {suspended from walls} {in plastic medical bags.}” The remaining drives are self-pleasure and avoiding scandal. Self-pleasure turns into performance art into self-mutilation, as when XXX
Turns on webcam. Opens her cutting box & takes out scalpel. Carefully cuts a hole into her scales where her snatch should be. Lubes her finger with her spit & inserts it.
after which, her family is distraught that she’s once again “in the headlines.” But there’s a classic beauty to this, not defeated by irony but enabled. The beauty of colors—onanism, exhibitionism, youth, rebellion, power, surrender, and sushi—mixing unencumbered by the physics of the world. It’s the beauty of walking at night, as more stars appear as your eyes adjust to the darkness. And even a small light source could prevent, overpower this—say, traditional sonic texturing, or life-like dialogue. In keeping with the soul of the book, new prosthetics are fashioned in place of these traditional mechanisms.
The text’s lyricism, in those assonance/consonance/rhythm kinda ways, is obscured on the page by a typography hyper-saturated with information. Even having retyped the book, I only first heard the beauty in the sounds during Glenum’s reading in Portland this summer. Wingdings are used not just to reflect what’s going on in the story, but for elevating the reader in real-time. The psi symbols that cascade down the first scene evoke both physical shape and the sound of waves, and are homophonic to “sigh”—for sure what XXX is feeling just then. The desk-bell dinging once XXX finally gets in The Smear’s pants echoes XXX’s spoken “Ring-a-ling”, the clit she’s about to grow, and the modern confirmation of an accomplishment of a download finishing or a WoW character leveling up. Multiple typefaces and point sizes are used, and used inconsistently. This is the mark of a Shenzen-manufactured, third-party-licensed, private-equity-firm-owned piece of future trash, at least against the leather-stitched, letter-pressed, restored 18th-century-German-boutique-foundry-typeface-d art books one’s used to receiving in the mail. But the melted face of the text is not just gesture—it’s rigged-up somehow as one of the prime momentum generating mechanisms of the book, while reinforcing the disorientation of the layout, of the interstitching of different forms of texts (lyric passages, a song, Twitter feeds, diary entries, the play, the play within the play), and of the characters themselves.
And for real, the characters. XXX’s sisters are Blubber Socket, CIinderskella, Kinderwhore, and Pursed & Puckered, though they only address each other as skankivore, sparklepants, crack tart, etc. Other characters: The Smear (aka The Prince), Ju-Ju Jezzy and Coco Le Sob (a moping jellyfish and a randy dolphin; stand-ins for Sebastian and Flounder), The Jizzler (?), and my fave, Octowarden né Octocock (...). To compound the difficulty of traditional investment in character, a good portion of what the characters say to each other isn’t even acknowledged, and almost nothing that is said is of any consequence. In one of the final scenes, Kinderwhore and Cinderskella are gossiping idly as insurgents attack the Royal Guard and tiger sharks attack the players and the audience. It’s so bad with The Smear—whose dialogue is collaged from Johannes Göransson’s poems—it shocks the other characters. The only conversational options open to them are questions like, “You tweaking, or what?” and, “Are you on eel crack, or what?” And XXX, our heroine, has no desire for spiritual union—the emotional anchor of both HCA’s version and Disney’s. When she dreams of The Smear she dreams of “fucking his eyebladders with my seafingers,” and yearns most sincerely for another hole, a real hole to “be able to feel shit.” In fact, that is her exclusive yearning. Our heroine wants only to feel things with some honest-to-goodness junk. The closest she gets to genuine affection is either lust or mutual admiration, and the urgency of her emotions is undecipherable. So why do I feel so glad when she gets in The Smear’s pants? Why doesn’t the tossed-off deus ex machina, “After some time, XXX spontaneously grows a snatch” ruin whatever investment I had in the story?
Whereas a traditional story relies on a rising conflict/resolution plot arc to generate tension, PC involves the reader in its text via normalization and ambient elevation. Instead of a bottle of wine it’s a weed brownie. Instead of a garden, an isolation tank. The irony created within oneself as the cobbled-together and very, very shitty world becomes the new normal is chilling enough to give you pause. But isn’t this also the experience of the real world now? Haven’t I deleted the last fifteen MoveOn.org petitions that hit my inbox? How many minutes now do I take processing each new mass shooting, and how many days did it take me before? Aren’t Syrians still getting massacred? And isn’t it all just so normal? The slow drift into the world of the book (see: paragraph 3)—the sinking-through-levels-of-experience—is the same mechanism that propels the story in place of traditional tension. It’s not the hope that a certain thing will/won’t happen to this-or-that character that keeps you turning the pages, but rather the changes in your own mental landscape as you read. You know how in The Autobiography of Red the adult-Geryon episodes feel so much more discursive and breezy than the sharper twists and sepia tone of his childhood adventures? Pop Corpse does this, but in a half-dozen ways all at once: Characters drift in and out. The rising affection we have for XXX and, eventually, The Smear are played against very sudden reevaluations of the supporting cast. Different sets of emoticons are introduced, crest, and recede. Our sense of the world greys from its technicolor, consequence-less beginning to the sheen and smell of garbage-juice. But except for XXX’s physiological changes, hardly anything is lost or gained or transformed in the world. Glenum is playing the imaginative and emotional space of the world, not the objects in it.
Outside all that there is to explore in the text, I recommend this book because it’s really, actually fun. I number it with Letters to Wendy’s, No Planets Strike, Sleeping with the Dictionary, Christensen’s Alphabet, etc., etc., as a book to loan to non-poet friends. It’s a book seeks mastery only in its own innovations and succeeds; a book that makes me excited about what hasn’t been done yet. And like these other books, Pop Corpse’s innovations aren’t—at all—at the expense of enjoyment. They are not novelties, or shocks, or experiments. They are of an originality that is less a call to imitation, and more a shout to keep up.- Donald Dunbar

A fairy tale, a popular tale, a pop tale, a dead tale, a pop corpse. A rotting version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid which nevertheless hews closely to the original. A love story, love letter, and happily-ever-after.
Published by Action Books, Lara Glenum’s Pop Corpse is presented in the “register of candied decay.” Which is tooth decay, mouth rot, rotten speech, a kind of half-speech found all over the internet. An expression of what poet Kevin Davies identified as “a metaliterate culture with time on its prosthetic tentacles.” Ostensibly in the form a play, Pop Corpse appears more as a mutated internet chat. It’s a hyper-contemporary re-mix, a Frankenstein-monster stitched together from adolescent status updates, feminist theory, Johannes Göransson’s poems, emoticons, chaotic online flotsam. The text is alternately presented as a traditional play and spattered anarchically over the page. One section recalls a Twitter feed, some pages contain nothing but a series of icons. Cryptograms or gibberish? At any time, huge fonts may interject: “SEA PRINCESS INDULGES IN SELF-ABUSE!!” or “YR COCK BELONGS UP THE ASS OF THIS BOOK.”
Pop Corpse opens with a quote from Andersen’s original in which the mermaid princess is about to have her fish tail transformed into legs in exchange for her tongue. For Glenum, the gain is not merely legs, but human female sex organs. The epigraph behaves as a thesis statement to which the rest of the book is an apoplectic reaction: in order to become capable of pleasure, a woman must be silenced.
“THIS POEM IS MY VOCAL PROSTHESIS” – a prosthetic voice to replace the voice claimed as payment for pleasure. The drama which follows can be characterized as a struggle for pleasure in an apocalyptic world, to escape a suffering which is “frivolous & ornamental,” an entire life of “ornament and excrement.” An entire world of excrement where we find a building which appears “as though a gigantic infant ate Barbie Dream Wonderland & shat it out & rolled the turd in glittering crustaceans.” These environs are “festooned with horny mermaids” though the mermaids cannot self-produce the excrement, the excess of their world: “The mermaid is the forgetting of the colon + / piss tube + snatch.” Thus our narrator, the mermaid princess XXX, desires to have the fish tail removed, become “all holes” and “open 2 whatevs.” It’s a desired freedom from horniness, from possessing a body incapable of orgasmic pleasure. The mermaids exist in a suspended state of sexual tension which cannot be dispelled. For XXX, it’s preferable to bleed out.
Occasionally, abstract academic language will appear in the midst of the Pop Corpse‘s far more characteristic “candied decay.” For instance, directly following a conversation between a Land-Dweller and Undersea Denizen about the “atomic dumps” the mermaids take from their mouths (“WTF?”), we’re treated to a definition of the mermaids as vision machines: “A culturally-produced spectacle that naturalizes highly specific forms of desire and consumption. The abject recuperated in the service of reproductive capitalism.” It’s impossible to know if we’re meant to take this seriously, as the whole of Pop Corpse seems a kind of “vision machine” in exactly this vein. A stilted argument between XXX and the other mermaids about gender, interiority, and agency concludes: “Fergit this shizzle! Let’s bounce!” It’s good advice.
But to read a Lara Glenum book primarily for theories on capitalism or gender would be a terrible mistake. The joy of her work is found in the astounding word-play which abounds not only in Pop Corpse but her two previous books as well. When the text gets “all swiggnotic / & whammo” Glenum enacts pleasure rather than theorizes it. “I’m vextipated / in my boo shank // I need some varmint to crank my jank” – the quirky sexuality of the language surprises on nearly every page. “In the suckshack / will his face finally debase me & / unbuckle / My junk flinching pinkjoy eggwhite noise spurt” – the lines unabashedly have fun, even as XXX fears debasement. The words roll over one another, it’s a simple pleasure, but potent. “I go squelch / in my welkin.” In order to enjoy Pop Corpse, it’s necessary to put aside the theoretical confusion and revel in the words themselves, to take pleasure in Glenum’s uniquely twisted language. Her neologisms and typographic distortions impart a mutant physicality to the text which provides the perfect vehicle for getting in and around the characters’ bodies as they traverse their excremental environs.
As Pop Corpse concludes, the newly legged XXX and her land-dwelling love interest, The Smear, have cemented their relationship and run off to be artists, “cannibalizing themselves in2 art.” It’s a perfect teenage dream and, in fact, teenagers are the ideal audience for this book. Muddled sexuality, self-harm, becoming an individual and artist; the themes and confusions present throughout speak to forming consciousness and would undoubtedly resonate with young readers. Send a copy to your local high school’s library. Pop Corpse is a splattered fairy tale for today, a new flavor of poetic candy, and, ultimately, a pleasure to read.
David B. Applegate

Lara Glenum’s third book of poetry, Pop Corpse (Action Books, 2013) opens with an epigraph from Hans Christian Anderson’s short story “The Little Mermaid.” In Anderson’s story, his mermaid endures a painful transformation into human form in order to pursue a prince with whom she has fallen in love. Unfortunately, her romantic advances go unrequited, and she dies in heartbreak.
With Pop Corpse, though, Glenum retells the mermaid’s tale wherein the protagonist becomes a champion of (and allegory for) sexual and creative freedom in a post-apocalyptic and “post-gender” (48) world. To this end, the book echoes Donna Haraway’s insistence in “A Cyborg Manifesto” that those with non-normative or marginalized identities need to “seize the tools to mark the world that marked them as other” through “stories, retold stories, versions that reverse and displace the hierarchical dualisms of naturalized identities.”
In her manifesto, Haraway also recognizes that we are engaged in a “border war,” the stakes of which are “territories of production, reproduction, and imagination.” In order to proceed most ethically, we should take “pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for the responsibility in their construction”; ultimately, such confusion and construction will aid in the “imagining of a world without gender.”
And it these very issues of border construction, confusion, imagination, reproduction on which Glenum’s book focuses. Near the beginning of the Pop Corpse, an Undersea Denizen says:
[The mermaids'] gender was chosen for them by their parents. The King and Queen of the Sea. Who have the most to gain by keeping the current power structures in place. And they succeed not by openly oppressing us but by persistently courting/curtailing our lines of sight with spectacle of their Vision Machines. (37)
The Denizen goes on to tell his companion that a Vision Machine is a “culturally-produced spectacle that naturalizes highly specific forms of desire and consumption” (37). In other words, systems of power enforce predetermined gender roles by providing subjects with highly-stylized images in order to produce and reinforce a particular type of want and, thus, thought. Even more troubling, XXX the mermaid informs the reader that:
     I got no holes to fuck with
                    No legs
                    Nothing between (32)
Indeed, XXX has no sex organs; therefore, this “CUNTLESS DUMPLING” (17) cannot experience sexual pleasure. She is both subject to an identity she did not create, and incapable of sexual fulfillment. Or, in XXX’s own words: “The Disaster’s being serially cut off from our own pleasure” (44); and, a bit later, “we can’t fuck. And that sucks seahorse butt” (48). The remainder of the Pop Corpse, then, follows the mermaid on her quest for functioning sex organs, sexual pleasure, and love.
Of course, if XXX’s narrative was simply a conduit for didactic musings on gender, sexuality, and social construction, Pop Corpse would most likely fail (at least to the extent that a theoretical text such as “A Cyborg Manifesto” could convey the ideas more effectively than a poetic text). But Pop Corpse succeeds because it also employs language in an “excessive & slightly off” manner that places “emphasis…on artifice & the unnatural” (23). Take, for instance, the following passages:
My father is a gillygobber &
the King of the Sea
In his freakopolis the liquid children
do not go in for cuzzly wuzzly mooncalves
but I sure as fuck do (24)

#Yr anus heart
gives me
a retard-on (66)

#Eyetwinkle hawt
U have retarded my dayz
in2 a narcoleptic stammer
A labial hiccup (71)

How long will this stellectric meat knot take
In the suckshack
will his face debase me &
          My junk fliching pinkjoy      eggwhite noise spurt (172)
The poems in Pop Corpse make liberal use of Twitter/text short-hand, neologisms and kennings that more often than not refer to some sort of sexual activity/organ, as well as webding-like symbols. Such language play allows for Glenum (and the characters in her book):
                      to speak in a different register
The register of candied decay
The filthy register of the halfbreed
which is
[her] own (10)
By using such language, which most standard-bearers would consider unpoetic, Glenum creates a unique and highly poetic language of a “different register” that aestheticizes the “decay” of what we consider formal or proper English. In doing so, the poet undermines normative conceptions of beauty that the antiseptic echo-chambers of poetry (e.g. Norton Anthologies and Best American Poetry,) try to reinforce. By melding progressive social themes with imaginative use of language, then, Pop Corpse delivers a highly-charged and imaginative poetic experience. - vouchedbooks.com/

There is certainly a widespread fascination with Pop in women’s writing and performance today. From the Warholian Pop Vanessa Place Inc., to Lady’s Gaga ARTPOP album, women’s culture has embraced the “lowbrow” of POPular culture, it’s would-be nemesis. Lara Glenum’s Pop Corpse and Becca Klaver’s Nonstop Pop, are two such examples. In an endless purposeful regression towards their inner fucked up girly girl, Klaver and Glenum explore not only in the language of pop but also in the relationship between the paranoid nature of pop and the always already dead and doubted girl.
Glenum’s Pop Corpse takes place in a post-apocalyptic ecological wasteland—literally, an unda-tha-sea Little Mermaid remix that takes place in a world devoid of terra firma, an archipelago of “floating islands of plastic garbage.” The book follows an asexual mermaid named XXX on her quest to give herself a vagina by any means (cleverly troping on the desexed Little Mermaid, who perhaps didn’t only wish for legs)—whether this means self-cutting, visiting the Sea Witch, or killing The Smear, the philosophizing love interest. XXX is publicly shamed for self-mutilation, and quarantined in a “RE-EDUCATION CAMP 4 THE SEXUALLY DEVIANT,” where she films her own self-mutilation, presumable broadcasting it on the underwater internet. Written in dramatic form, and utilizing pop-slang and e-slang, here, pop is a language, a way of thinking, but it also predicates pain and suffering for the mermaids. In many ways, Glenum’s scoring of feminine affect reads like a transcription of a hyper-girly Ryan Trecartin film. The mermaids talk like they’re texting: “Ever since the ocean’s gone toxic and the earth’s been burnt to a crisp, she’s been totes sketch.” And the male characters have absorbed the ironic, sexist adolescent boy humor that dominates American capitalist entertainment discourse: “Try kissing one sometime. It’s like giving a rim job to a dysentery victim. With really long ass hair.” Yet, the language remains manic, and at times is theoretically lucid. For instance, an Undersea Denizen observes that the King and Queen of the Sea are “openly oppressing us by persistently courting/curtailing our lines of sight with the spectacle of their Vision Machines […] a culturally-produced spectacle that naturalizes highly specific forms of desire and consumption.”
It is these acute observations about the spectacle of commodity that Becca Klaver’s Nonstop Pop performs. In this way, Nonstop Pop always predicts loss, even when it does not explicitly perform it. In a neoconfesional meets Flarf vein, the poems are a mix of lineated reflections and prose meditations that struggle with the ridiculous demands of consumerism—“less treadmill, more Skechers Shape-Ups” and “I was like so … Geico/ And you were like so… Activia”—as well as a troubled attachment to a more adolescent, indeed girlish, relation with capitalist commodity—from “Schwarzeneneggery”: “She knows she’s not supposed to love it but knows that’s why she does […] she presumes to be a muscleman.”
Lauren Berlant has argued that women’s culture is a juxtapolitical entity. Thus, women’s culture may not be revolutionary in a destructive or subversive sense—in the sense of a counterpublic or subculture—but rather serves as a maintenance mechanism. Women’s culture may be critical of the status quo, but remains in fidelity with oppressive structures and norms. Nevertheless, women’s culture also legitimates and embodies desires towards luminosity and exceptionalism and in this way is a kind of messy, confused clusterfuck of feminine desire.
For Berlant, the sentimental mid-century romance films are axiomatic of the female complaint, which is that love is the gift that keeps on taking. Women’s culture, an example of what Berlant calls an “intimate public,” thus allows need fulfillment, but also yearns for a more vulnerable, balanced, compassionate iteration of romantic love. However, the female complaint of the mid-twentieth century can hardly still be indicative of the multivocal frustration of today’s still marginalized women. Glenum’s and Klaver’s works give us two perspectives on female dissatisfaction. For Glenum, the female complaint is primarily a lack of symbolic access. XXX is neither female, nor male, and this symbolic reality is made material in her lack of sexual organs. But XXX wants badly to feel desire. As we will see, XXX is straight-up girl: as Delezue and Guattari argue, a figure of pure becoming, and thus pure desire.
Klaver’s work points out, however, that capitalist narrative fetishism is still largely interested in repackaging “the staged break-up under the antique lamppost haze.” And yet, for many women, “so grateful for the Hollywood formula,” those narratives, as obviously problematic as they may be, continue to define not just the pains, but also the joys of our childhoods, our girlhoods, and our womanhoods. We are still woefully (and often not so woefully) attached to them. Both writers fold the opposing and contradictory yearnings towards commodity fetishism and systematic rejection of capitalist exploitation into one another. “America so vast and usable,” as Klaver writes. And yet, acutely aware of the privilege of such a statement, “what can I tell you that will exploit myself and no one else.” In the words of XXX’s mermaid sister Blubber Socket, who seems more content with her vagina-less future, “We spiritualize consumption! We’re nothing but surface!”
Rather than purely sentimental, then, the female complaint contained in these collections is something more unstable and contradictory—full of irony, skepticism, mockery, disdain, panic, paranoia, freedom, play, and yes, nostalgia. Our girlfriend Glenum asks of our lover Pop:
“Is this a relationship
or just
a confused noise”
We see similar approaches to women’s culture in the performance and internet-based work of artists like Kate Durbin, and indeed in Glenum’s own readings of Pop Corpse!, which have recently included costumed performances. This kind of work is all owning the spectacle of the girl (OMG she’s making a spectacle of herself!), and yet, as Pop Corpse makes clear, it’s also about suffering.
It was, we should remember, the post-war economy of the 1940s that, along with a dissatisfaction with the formalism of Abstract Expressionism, inaugurated Pop Art and its later iterations. Poor economies necessitate greater popular distraction, not only to keep the masses sleepy, delusional and unmotivated to revolt, but also to help us deal. With all this in mind, it no longer seems strictly coincidental, self-indulgent, or even intentional that contemporary work has an increased interest in Warholian irony, performance, and ambiguity. To borrow a phrase from the new kings and queens of pop-theory over at Gaga Stigmata, many of us have no choice but to move at the “speed of pop.” Thus, conceptualism and these related feminist poetic iterations are closely linked: neither have time to dress up in fancy clothing, choosing instead cheap, bubblegummy, sale rack clothing, which feels more indicative of the 99%.
In other words, pop is poverty, and poverty is pop. Pop is cheap, fast, easy, sexy and an altogether intimate affair. And of course, pop is paranoid, because, as we know, pop is always watching us.
Capitalist commodification, specifically of the girl, is in both collections translated into an embodied, paranoiac state. Klaver’s work is here reminiscent of the witness in the Buddhist sense, observing the chaos of the everyday from a removed but not disconnected distance (whereas XXX is totally, even materially, imbricated). In both approaches, however, the subject is rendered permanently unstable, outside itself, and yet implicated by the gendered symbolic and by commodity fetishism. In these works, desire and drive do exist, but so does repulsion, injustice, eco-waste, war, self-mutilation, addiction and rehab.
Significant in Glenum’s Pop Corpse is this latter theme of torture, trauma and self-mutilation. It has been widely documented that self-mutilation is spurred by a desire to feel control of one’s body—no surprise then that this illness is primarily experienced by teen girls. The desire for pain here is not just a desire for physical hurt, but for certainty, where the world itself only offers the girl apprehension. The girl—forever a becoming—has been reduced to pure flesh, and so is dead before she is living. Or, perhaps, the erotic and bloodied girl-corpse women writers are so fascinated by today, is the desire for pure pain, the perversion-subversion of the candied and paranoid face of pop. This is not an Top Model ugly-pretty face, but rather pretty-in-pain face. Moreover, given the very patriarchal tradition of aestheticizing the tortured girl—the girl, interrupted—and the more recent phantasm of the girl as global neoliberal charity case, perhaps the most salient qualities of the girl-in-pop is pain and suffering. As Glenum writes:
My suffering has become frivolous & ornamental
which is to say
it now participates in “luxury, mourning, war, cults,
the construction of sumptuary monuments, games,
spectacles, arts”
Indeed, as Glenum writes, “When u r a GIRL/ yr body is a CRIME LAB.” In other words, a site of skepticism. When discussing with her sister her own self-mutilation, XXX claims “It’s performance art,” while sister PURSED & PUCKERED argues it’s “More like torture porn.” Given the number of untested rape kits sitting in crime labs across the country, as well as rape culture’s continued a priori dehumanization of the girl, all of these responses to girlishness feel dead on (pun intended), but it is being met with the pose of uncertainty, of doubt, that girls know best. - Amanda Montei

Imagine that you find yourself in a land of “plastic garbage,” as Glenum writes. This book burns with intense death, in the sense that you find yourself pulled in. All the characters are a total gas, too. This is the land of “Club Me,” and the opening score is about death and “seal flesh,” “bezerking in my pants.” Maybe you have been somewhere like this before, no? Well, let’s see what we find.
We have mermaids, and oh, teenage mermaids at that. Glenum writes that “a mermaid is supposed 2 b all seafoam,” and it’s tough not to believe her; I mean, aren’t mermaids sea creatures? Everything is sparkling and Technicolor, and the emoticons of the book really give it away as having been made from the kitschiest “Goo-Goo Lagoon,” as Glenum calls one of her many settings. Oddly enough, the emphasis in this book, in this setting, is on “artifice & the unnatural,” and everything is ornamental and excremental.
Glenum writes about “Little Merde-Maid & Her Shitstain of a Story,” something about how at the Yum Factory, there are only Vision Machines, what Paul Virilio might call the spoils of war, no? One of the Undersea Denizens seems to know the tune, and he calls it: “A culturally-produced spectacle that naturalizes highly specific forms of desire and consumption. The abject recuperated in the service of reproductive capitalism.” This guy seems to be on to something!
We wonder whether this is a refrigerator (I mean, “Poor li’l fish girls. No pleasure! All cold.”) or whether it’s a “Bone Palace,” as Glenum writes. It’s probably both, but no one seems to be going anywhere anytime soon.
A poor mermaid named XXX, one of the story’s stars, writes: “I think I’ve somehow wound up in the penal colony,” and we pity her.
Kinderwhore simply writes: “$$$$$$$$.” Yes! Do you know this story yet?
And the best part of the story is that everything almost seems to take place in “The Royal Chambers,” where (let’s face it) the sun lives, too (though he doesn’t make an appearance).
Here’s another zinger:
In the Slice Ward
they have an electrical shower
for girls who feel 2 much Who feel
They call it
The Gate of Heaven
And apparently, Jacques Lacan is floating around in the background somewhere (though he fails too to make an appearance): “MUSEUMS R 4 THE CURATION OF DISEASE.”
Everything in this book is a gas—no, really. And everything takes place in “The Sea King’s Undersea Pleasuredome”!
The King of the Sea shuffles XXX around, as he well should (she always needed a true Father).
And then we have a few words from Octowarden, who tells it straight (as perhaps, someone should):
I mean, if this isn’t The Crypto-Real, I don’t know where else to find it. Everyone is swimming, everyone is alive with electricity, and no one is aware of how to respond to each other.
It’s a “Ghoulish Operetta,” and it’s taking captives. It’s happening in The Royal Theater, and everyone is wearing “lipstick worms.”
I mean, it’s theater.
XXX tells the truth about herself:
On national TV    I’m totes brillz
w yakkies
in my fishbelly        & Blood thunder in the aerodrome
as I pop a bunny
tying yr arms back
This is the Isle of Noise. It’s the “spectacle happening now / in the calcified docking zone.”
It’s the Gate of Heaven, and Glenum thanks us, the rest of the hooligans, for our crimes. Look out, the world is behind you. - Laura Carter

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