Matthew Savoca - "I would like to marry Matthew, but after reading this lovely work, it suddenly seems like a bad idea"

Matthew Savoca, long love poem with descriptive title, The Scrambler, 2010.

“Matthew Savoca’s poetry is like a slow-spinning ceiling fan. It’s like the feeling of being under the ceiling fan. It’s like the feeling of looking up at the ceiling fan. It’s like the feeling of falling half-asleep beneath it. And this book is the calm, sunny room that you’re in.
I could think of a million other tiny small things to say (probably all of them about things like washing dishes) that make me think of Matthew’s poetry and how it’s one of the best things that I know about that exists. Everything seems a little lighter and easier and sunnier if I think about them after thinking about Matthew’s poetry.
You should probably be in love with Matthew Savoca. He wrote this book for you.” – Colin Bassett

“long love poem with descriptive title has this tender sensibility about domestic life, but it’s still very dour and a little sad. It has this way of displaying the repetitive quality of relationships that is comforting but ultimately depressing as hell. I would like to marry Matthew, but after reading this lovely work, it suddenly seems like a bad idea.” – Kendra Grant Malone

"long love poem with descriptive title is a full-length poetry book consisting of one long poem accompanied by little drawings of plants, animals, and a lamp. an un-named famous musician (has a record review on pitchfork.com) said this to me in an email about this book: “…I especially like your dialogue. You reign all the sadness of the world into short, simple, and sweet phrases that somehow tame all the chaos of corpses leaking into the water pipes…” – Matthew Savoca

"How did this book begin as a manuscript? How did it find its place? How did it end?
- this book began as a manuscript of one line that i couldn’t stop thinking in my head: “large eyes are what make you beautiful”. then i just kept adding to it periodically all summer long as the document sat open on my computer screen on a little desk in a tiny corner of a room four floors up. i think it found its place just by walking calmly wherever it wanted to go, like a dog on a leash so long that it was almost not recognizable as a leash but as part of the scenery.
Are you scared? What are you scared of?
- i am not so scared, but recently i realized that i have no idea at all what friendship is, and that scared me a little.
Do you ever think about what you are going to write about something as the something is happening?
- i do that kind of a lot, but i try not to. the more i do it, the worse it comes out when i write about it later. it always comes out best the stuff i didn’t think “oh, i’m going to write such-and-such about this later on”.
Do you see yourself inside your book, or does it seem like other people? Do you feel you have modes?
- i see a slightly-outdated version of myself inside the book. being involved in the publishing of this book has felt a lot like reading old emails and thinking to myself, “oh, man, i remember this. i remember saying that.” because i wrote this book two years ago and just now people are reading it. and since this book is almost kind of like a conversation that i never had, then people reading it two years later is like all of a sudden finding out that you were on the other end of a conversation that never happened two years ago. i don’t feel that i have modes as in a circle, but maybe stations as in a line. that might just be the way i want to see it. on second thought, i am a circle sometimes.
How does a book correspond with the act of love, as an object?
- if the act of love is choosing to consider someone else before you consider yourself, then this book, as an object, is a bounded stack of paper with particular patterns of ink on it that is being sold for 12 dollars with free shipping in the US.
if the act of love is seeing in another person what you love about yourself, then this book, as an object, is like the search bar in your gmail account that you keep going back to over and over again to find exactly what you need, if it’s there.
What is something you have hid?
- i have hid my face in my arms. my penis, i hide that everyday inside of my clothes. i have hid my family, my upbringing. i have hid what i really think about a lot of people and events. i have hid anger and love and i have hid sickness." - Interview with Blake Butler


Katrina Palmer - Teenage Hooker Became a Žižek Machine

Katrina Palmer, The Dark Object, Book Works 2010.

“Wallace Stevens thought that Heidegger was Swiss, mistaking Fribourg for Frieburg, didn’t read anything by him and knew him as a myth rather than as a person. He thought philosophy was mythical, by which he meant something uncomplimentary when he said it, though he was a poet like Holderlin who thought ‘Poetically man dwells on this earth,’ and who in his ‘Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour’ wrote that, ‘… out of the central mind,/ We make a dwelling in the evening air,/ In which being there together is enough.’
I like the idea of an imagined doppleganger-Heidegger so references to Heidegger are to this Swiss version rather than the German Nazi-appointed rector of Frieburg University. Stevens is the great poet of the poetic dwelling time on earth, poised at a pitch between birth and death, as good a poet as Holderlin, and asking the same question as the German: what are times for in times of poverty? As he approached dying he wrote about Pascal as someone who cleaved to imagination as the delusion that might bring ‘ beauty, justice and happiness.’ Getting to the plain real needed analogy and imagination, ‘ his poverty becomes his heart’s strong core’ and what he considered a will to holiness.
Randall Jarrell thought Stevens wrote poems ‘… from the other side of existence, the poems of someone who sees things in steady accustomedness, as we do not, and sees their accustomedness, and them, as about to perish.’ The poet finds the thing seen becoming a thing unseen, and in so doing becomes, in Stevens’ own words, ‘… an intermediary between people and the world in which they live… but not between people and some other world.’ Stevens’ Ulysses is a small town boy returning to ‘… the substance of his region’ where there is a first great river of Conneticut ‘before one comes to the first black cataracts’ of the final one.
I thought of Stevens when reading Palmer’s book because The Dark Object is a kind of speaking the truth that our Swiss/Hartford Heidegger/Stevens unity might write out as ‘… the saying of the unconcealedness of what is,’ where ‘truth’ is chased down to ‘aletheia’ which is ‘unconcealedness.’ Palmer’s book is ‘double plotted’ as the Soviet semiologist Jurij M. Lotman would say. There is the plot that is without anomolies and ‘immanently inherent in the world,’ and there is the ‘primordially opposed’ plot that originates in anecdote, incident, news and excess. The first we might label the mythic and the second the scandalous. Palmer wraps the occult and the obvious together in a curiously episodic text that both tells of the heroine’s story and also the story of that story too. In this respect then it could be prefaced by Henry James who wrote exactly that about his own novel, The Ambassadors.
This links to Stevens who was concerned to dwell in the mysterious occultness of the ordinary, the everyday, the unconcealed, signaling that there was this doubleness, this remarkable atemporal element alongside the temporal, a secret inside a secret hidden in the plainest of plain sights. The Dark Object reminded me of an intense poem that wanted to bring certain things to light, to reveal them so to speak, and as such it reminded me of other several things, but most of all the Kafka parable in The Trial and its troubling, dark intimation to the concealedness inherent in everything. This is the world of ‘dark speeches’, for parable means ‘dark speeches’ in Hebrew, a word riddlingly close to my own name, ‘mashal’, riddlingly close because in terms of scandal and time there is nothing but a coincidence, in terms of myth and magic there lies something of the affrontery of a hidden purpose, a kind of dark, defiling joke. A parable therefore is the opposite of open proclamation; its purpose is to conceal, to retain the secret, to keep people out and in this the Gospel according to Mark is a key text, the one Gospel narrative that has Jesus say that he uses parables to keep the uncircumcised ear from understanding. It is a dark object.
The parable in Kafka is the one about the doorkeeper who won’t let a man in to see the Law. The man waits outside the door for years waiting to be admitted. He tries all kinds of ways of getting past the doorkeeper but fails. He gets close to dying and sees a great light beaming out from the door. As he dies he asks the doorkeeper why no one else tried to see this particular door to get to the Law. And the doorkeeper replies, ‘ this door was intended only for you. Now I am going to shut it.’
The Christian Bible’s Gospel of Mark is a dark speech itself. It is an exact precursor of the Kafkaesque and contains Jesus saying to his twelve disciples after he has told the parable of the sower that the elect know the mystery of the Kingdom but those outside such knowledge need parables ‘… so that they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear but not understand, lest at any time they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them.’ (Mark 4: 11-12) Parables are told to conceal not reveal.
Jesus’s ‘so that’ is translated into the Greek as ‘hina’ and is considered a tough, intolerable thing to say. Matthew thought so and he substitutes ‘hoti’, meaning ‘because’ for ‘hina’, which gives a much more gentle meaning to the episode. Matthew often divines a softer Jesus than Mark although having said that it is Matthew who writes that ‘.. to him who has will more be given … but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’ Matthew’s approach renders us a sense of dismay at Mark’s message.
The glosses on the parables, the interpretations that follow in both Kafka and Mark, seem inept, melancholic, depressing. In Kafka the priest, who tells the story to K in the novel, responds to K’s thought that accepting the doorkeeper as telling the truth involved accepting contradictions by saying : ‘ it is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary.’ ‘A melancholy conclusion,’ says K. ‘It turns lying into a universal principle.’
All this reminds us of the double plot idea, the occult and the scandalous, that like serpents within serpents swallow whole the very idea of unconcealedness and make it, at the very least, a job to be done. That’s why we have poets. So Palmer’s The Dark Object really works like a parable, and so it has the same feeling of deep mysteriousness and weirdness of Mark and Kafka, a strange atmosphere that signals that there are occult forces tangled up in the episodic narrative of the trapped Addison Cole.
What is the story? Palmer makes sure we know that there are occult forces by having multiple stories performed within the story, each bafflingly self referential at times but in ways that are closed, difficult to grasp. Like Addison Cole herself, the reader is placed in a Russian Doll sort of text, a story in a story in a story, where the ideal of narrative closure, of interpretive closure, is provocatively questioned. In fact, the inclusion of Hegel and Žižek as names in the stories, both key figures in theories of hermeneutical activity makes clear that nothing is to be clear. The dark object is the novel itself, its own dark speech, endlessly offering itself up for a further story about itself.
Hegel is a name of the historical interpreter, who would ask us to return to the historical origin of texts, and resist any canonical mediation. Hegel’s is the nostalgia for the primitive ground of origins, the pre-text, the voices and people before the text. It links us with the opening words of Adam Bede where a drop of ink ‘… reveal to any chance comer far-reaching views of the past… with this drop of ink at the end of my pen… [she]… will show you the roomy workshop of Mr Jonathan Burge, carpenter and builder, in the village of Hayslope, as it appeared on the eighteenth of June, in the year of our Lord 1799.’ It is an occult desire to reveal the dead, to bring back to life the original voices that existed before the recollection, before the writing it down, to bring back from the dead a Lazarus vernacular .
Žižek is a sign of the canonical interpreter, the Lacanian therapist who seeks out the coherence and self-sufficiency of the text itself. History is fine but only as a prehistory to the text itself, the unified, organic complexity that exists as a world in itself, able to both tell its stories and the story of its own story as well, a ‘collection with parameters’ as Brevard S Childs describes a canon, and as Joyce’s Ulysses is the secular modernist exemplar par excellence. His therapy offers a ‘reading’ to recover a hidden or lost meaning that can do so by attending to the text or person as something closed, but requiring, as all canons do, a shadow of commentary. Kermode writes that ‘…in the Jewish tradition the Torah is always accompanied by its shadow, the commentary that will presumably go on forever; and yet they are thought of together as the Torah, a syzygy of that which is fixed and that which changes with time.’
Palmer’s is a book within a series, edited by an author of another book of the series Stewart Home, and by Gavin Everall, general editor of Bookworks. Palmer’s book is inside the Semina series, with all that that entails, historically linking it with the first Semina series and also with the other books of the present one. Yet it also links itself with contexts that are, at first blush, a long way from bookish matters, in particular issues of feminism and wimmin. A reading requires considerations of both scandalous and occult plots, and too quickly sometimes critics may shift to the occult at the expense of scandalous details. And similarly when accruing contexts as anchors, the obvious scandal is sometimes overlooked for the obviously obscure one, sometimes to the detriment of the reading and sometimes for dishonorable reasons.
So in reading this I was brought to attend some small range of a huge genre of scandalous wimmin stories, culled from the nearly current news like: ‘Studies from Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States show that between 40% and 70% of female murders were carried out by intimate partners … In South-East Asia, burns are the third leading cause of death [for adolescent girls and women of reproductive age]. While many are the result of cooking accidents, some are homicides or suicides, often associated with violence by an intimate partner … Despite the size of the problem, many women do not report their experiences of violence and do not seek help. As a result, violence against women remains a hidden problem with great human and health-care costs.”
“Because they are less likely to be part of the formal labor market, women lack access to job security and the benefits of social protection, including access to health care. Within the formal workforce, women often face challenges related to their lower status, suffer discrimination and sexual harassment, and have to balance the demands of paid work and work at home, giving rise to work-related fatigue, infections, mental ill-health and other problems.”
The men’s world cup football took place in South Africa and Adriana Stuijt reminds us that, ‘A woman is six times more likely to be killed by an intimate partner in South Africa than anywhere else in the world, a conference on Sexual Violence near Johannesburg was told on Wednesday. And most of their murderers were drunk and HIV-positive.
“Twenty-five percent of women in the general population (out of a total of 47-million people) and in 40% to 50% in the targeted studies have been victims of physical intimate partner violence,” Professor Rachel Jewkes of the Sexual Violence Research Initiative said in Benoni, Johannesburg on Wednesday. The conference was aimed at addressing and preventing sexual assault and violence.’
‘Up to 300 people are sacrificed every year in South Africa so that their body parts to be used in traditional “Muti” medicine. Most of these are young children, tortured to death. And more girls than boys are ’sacrificed’: because of the belief propagated by traditional healers that raping virginal girls cures them of AIDS.
“It’s done while she’s still alive because the more she screams, the more powerful the Muti’s going to be,” explains crime expert Kobus Jonker, gesturing at the picture of a mutilated six year old girl.’
In the light of this scandalous testimony – and this is sadly just the tip of the iceberg – the question about what are the facts, what is real, what is unconcealed, becomes urgent, and the job of the poet the job. The authority and permission to tell these stories is decidedly undecided. Juxtapose the story of football matches and the story of Muti and we have our own version of the Comices scene from Madame Bovary where, while M. Lieuvain and M. Derozeray make eloquent with ideals of freedom, order and duty Emma and Rodolphe have sex whilst the crowd punctuate the sex and the oration with shouts about pigs, manure and sheep.
Authority and repression march and jabber and write hand in hand, and wimmin, like that other troublesome, troubled group, children, are often forced into spaces that refuse them. And even in occult reading a blindspot occurs, reinforcing the refusal, complicit with the whole, so that the interpretation becomes collusion. This is where the scandalous and the occult plots correspond, a determination of ‘ green’s green apogee’, as Stevens puts it in ‘Credences of Summer.’ Such determinations are readings without remainders, finished, complete in themselves, but is something only the Divine divines, and secular readers might avoid in order to avoid the pedagogical and psychological enthusiasms that Carl Gustav Jung suspected of ‘dishonourable intentions’.
This is an issue that Bernhard Schlink’s middlebrow read The Reader of 1998 is impressively perceptive about when discussing children.
The dad is talking to the protagonist Michael about how philosophy forgets children:
Don’t you remember how furious you would get as a little boy when Mama knew best what was good for you? Even how far one can act like this with children is a real problem. It is a philosophical problem, but philosophy does not concern itself with children. It leaves them to pedagogy, where they are not in very good hands. Philosophy has forgotten about children.’ He smiled at me. ‘Forgotten them forever, not just sometimes, the way I forget about you.’
‘But. . .’
‘But with adults I unfortunately see no justification for setting other people‟s views of what is good for them above their own ideas of what is good for themselves.’
‘Not even if they themselves would be happy about it later?’
He shook his head. ‘We’re not talking about happiness, we’re talking about dignity and freedom. Even as a little boy, you knew the difference. It was no comfort to you that your mother was always right.’ (pp. 140-1)
Philosophy forgets about wimmin too. This can be a result of a flight from history, from hermeneutical and therapist approaches that makes too much of a total world out of a text without remainder, over oversimplifying the complexity of knowing how to know the truth about a world. Midrash is the Jewish process of commentary, a lasting process reaching to the end of time, a continuation of the process of finishing a text, one that is more like acknowledgement than any statement of the final end, the finishing line. The Dark Object of Palmer is here being read as the dark speech of Mark, the parable or riddle asking for acknowledgment rather than the truth, a request inevitably betrayed by the dishonorable intentions of those wishing to impose a final interpretation but also inevitably aided by such interpretations, to the exact degree of ineptitude and ignorance they show. This the way of showing Hermes, the God of interpretation, the door, but it’s a revolving door that gets you in and out in one fell swoop. Katrina Palmer winds serpents of narrative within serpents of narrative, mysteriously dark, sinewy, sensual and venom-brainy, not as maps of a territory nor reflection of life lived nor mirrors (of a world) nor perspectives (on life) but just as something indicating an approach to linearity that suggests, hints, gives a glimpse of lines that propose nothing but a wound that ‘.. continues to spread its monstrosity.’ But every storyline is an alternative that may or may not follow from what just happened. Madness, jump starts and stops, weird collusions and collisions breeding hedges, nudges, winks, hooded stories that reveal nothing more than that there may, after all, something behind the mask, but like the legendary Fantomas of Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, not necessarily the same thing each time. Everything reshapes, re-emerges and then disappears again, like Melville’s Confidence Man moving in a fantastical, hysterical, melodramatic zigzag of this and that, defeating the detectives, staying out of the clutches of any law, uninterpreted or multi-interpreted, a demonic narrative of the Gospel of Mark’s Legion swarming in Gerasene down a cliff screaming death and sex, transforming itself into a little apocalypse, like the deliriously insane foetal abattoir line scene from Mam Ki-Woong’s Teenage Hooker Became A Killing Machine movie, a cinematic offering that offers similar poetic delights as Palmer’s ‘fictional construction.’
Alongside therapy is the re-authoring theorisings of post modernity, with its duality search routines, where everything is structured through bipolarities and the weaker element is identified, where the hierarchy is reinterpreted to weaken the pattern of dominance, where the rebel voice denies the dominant voice for the weaker, where the other side of the story is told so the continuous change and disintegration being concealed by any dominant fixed reading is glimpsed, and from where then we role on to deny the plot, turning everything round so that romance becomes tragedy and farce ironical and so on – like the way the first Bruce Willis Die Hard movie rewrites It’s a Wonderful Life as a different version of Christmas in Amerika, and on further to find the exception that takes the story to the extreme, revealing its absurdity, and further on yet to trace what lies between the lines, all those weird gaps in stories, creating subterranean intertexts, like Buñuel’s Belle De Jour, all of Chris Marker, and especially like that intense poetical short film Kanchul, by Teenage Hooker man Mam Ki-Woong, and on again, on again inexhaustively to the story re-authored so that ‘… a new balance of views is attained’, which becomes a story without centres in order to ‘script for new actions’ which leaves everything pulped and smashed, ‘ a repulsive pulpy mass of soft tissue, and still in the process of growing’ as Palmer writes it in the strange inspiration of its final climax, like in nearly every scene of the exceptional Nazi/Zombie film Dead Snow of Tommy Wirkola.
Katrina Palmer is a groove sensation because she gets to the serpent inside all this too, the ‘dishonourable intentions’ that despite everything lead the Po Mo crowd to act like Inspector Juve or Lestrade or any other master who seeks to pull the mask from the face and reveal the final angel of truth. Which is why the disintegrating bones and voice of Hegel is a nasty ghastliness in this cabinet of wonders, a peculiar reminder that even honorable intentions are not always what they seem to be.
So Palmer is writing out of horrors that slither out of a similar type of bad intention, found both in the cults of therapy and of deconstructionism, viz, an intention that seeks a kind of completion, a reading without remainder, a claim to know that is a claim of ownership, the song of the master to the slave, the pimp to the whore. The point of writing is to make things happen. A book is a gun the whore deep-throats the pimp to death with, like in the Ki-Woong movie. It’s the loaded gun from between the girl’s nasty thighs that murders the murderer, blasts away her masters.
Narratives and novels have had a tendency to be treated as ways of knowing, the discrete charm of the bourgoisie is its master narrative, (which is also its blood rite, as Stewart Home clarified in his Semina offering) and Palmer is fragmenting her narrative lines, twisting them, breaking them up and looping them into bloody, buckled, torn, shredded episodes and dissociative blocks of writing suggesting a wise resistance to this, blamming out a reading that pushes us to a sense of acknowledging rather than knowing, in a way that poems, a certain kind of cinema and double plotted novels try for.
The idea of the omniscient narrator grew with the development of the novel but Holderlin observed that ‘we are a poem that cannot be read,’ resisting the notion of language as a tool, celebrating instead what the philosopher Paul Standish sees as ‘the opacity of language, its thickness… its recalcitrance.’ Derrida’s idea of the endless deferral of meaning, the unforeseeability and irretrievability of any reading without remainder is the heart of all this and is what the ‘dishonorable intention’ of certain therapy denies – the Z of Žižek standing in for this.
A reading that requires the gentler, more communing, more democratic acknowledgment is one that recognizes that there are no readings without remainder, that there will always be inaccessibles. Deleuze in Difference and Repetition writes this out as a proper recognition of a metaphysics of selfhood, saying that, ‘A Cogito for a dissolved Self: the Self of ‘I think’ includes in its essence a receptivity of intuition in relation to which I is already an other. It matters little that synthetic identity—and, following that, the morality of practical reason—restore the integrity of the self, of the world and of God, thereby preparing the way for post-Kantian syntheses: for a brief moment we enter into that schizophrenia in principle which characterizes the highest power of thought and opens Being directly onto difference, despite all the mediations, all the reconciliations, of the concept.’
Put like that, it sounds a bit masterful, a bit too much like a final word on the matter itself. Stevens is better: a better philosopher than Holderlin and a better poet than Heidegger: ‘The poem is the cry of its occasion,/ Part of the res itself and not about it./ The poet speaks the poem as it is,/ Not as it was: part of the reverberation/ Of a windy night as it is, when the marble statues/ Are like newspapers blown by the wind.’ (from ‘An Ordinary Evening in Newhaven.’)
Deleuze writes about cuts, bands or grooves between meanings in terms of ‘interstice’. He is the philosopher who says ‘ … the question is no longer that of the association or attraction of images. What counts is on the contrary the interstice between images, between two images… Given one image, another image has to be chosen which will induce an interstice between the two. This is not an operation of association, but of differentiation, as mathematicians say, or of disappearance, as physics say; given one potential, another one has to be chosen, not any whatever, but in such a way that a difference of potential is established between the two, which will be productive of a third or something new …’ But in a movie like the aforementioned Dead Snow the interstices are intestinal, and what they produce are zombies, which represent the dead brutal lifelessness of interpretation without remainder, for zombies are without spirit, are Eliot’s Hollow Men, merely facsimiles of the living.
Katrina Palmer faces two images of Žižek: intellectual Elvis and intellectual Nazi Zombie. And a theory that ensures that the distance between the two images is preserved forever, according to Žižek’s own Lacanian thought. The cut repulses and attracts the images, solders them into a psychological reality that seems irresistable. The good Žižek is the magical singer of songs, singing a world of words to the end of it. The other is the one without any song, wanting just to march the stories that are told, the master of the story and of all who listen. In Kafka there is another parable about leopards that break into the temple to drink from the ceremonial bowls. They do so so frequently they become part of the ceremony. This is the Zizek of melancholic zombie horror, the thief and intruder who knows nothing of his significance in relation to the ceremony, being, like the leopards, ignorant of everything except their thirst and an easy source of its quenching. It is a rapacious stupid hooliganism that replaces the singer of songs, which is pretty much how the Bible thinks of David too.
In the novel is a story which starting at its second line begins:
'Carole E sits on a chair that can unfurl to form a bed. She thinks about the chair silently withholding its contingent bed-ness, like a secret. She stands, flips the chair open, exposing the bed and she gets into the position Z demands of her. It’s a good chair, she thinks, but once opened up, it’s not such a great bed. She wants to ask Z something, but her mouth is dry and her lips are beginning to crack. Just able to reach her tin of Vaseline, she twists it open, applies the balm and then asks a question into the back of the chair. She wants to know if Z’s looking at her.'
This passage is about the gap, the crevice, the interstice, the cut, the groove, the hole, Anne Stevenson’s ditch, the black screen used in the cinema of the Dziga Vertov Group; ‘… black frames were shots we didn’t know how to shoot: shots of bourgeoisie ideology and imperialism and they weren’t even black, they were coloured, like in any James Bond movie….Our problem is to show colours different from those in bourgeois and imperialist films….’ To recut against the groove of the masculine gaze, its double entendre multiplied by Žižek’s own face that becomes the all seeing, all knowing hairy bearded eye planted between her legs drooling over the spooled out intestines of his interpreted wimmin, this is the purpose here.
‘Yes,’ Z says, ‘I am definitely looking at you.’’
And this passage is a response to the opening line of one story in the story, the narrative that unwinds like a mystery of labyrinthine complexity into the completed montage collage text, rooting back according to the startling Pavle Levi’s essay ‘ The crevice and the stitch’ through Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s ‘typophotos’ Dynamics of the Metropolis of 1924-5, El Lissitsky’s Supremacist tales ‘About Two Squares’ of 1922, Max Ernst’s collage books Une semaine de bonte of 1934, Isidore Isou’s Amos of 1952 to Michael Snow’s slide show ‘Sink’ of 1969 and so on.
Take your knickers off…’ is the opening line of the story.
This is the strange music of Palmer’s text, the riddling hook that connects the obscenity of Muti to anti-wimmin language and the Žižek as stoopid Zombie trope that runs through the whole novel. In Issue 1 of Maria Fusco’s The Happy Hypocrite, the ‘Linguistic Hardcore’ issue of 2008, an interview with the legendary Cosey Fanni Tutti ends with a shuddering collision with the ‘dishonourable intentions’ of such language. Tutti is discussing the language of skin flick magazines. She says, ‘ The language in some of those magazines was sometimes quite shocking. There was a phrase in a magazine I did some work in ‘The Piccadilly’. So the whole 80 odd pages were framed up in three frames, a real eye-opener, at the end of one of the magazines and it said ‘Does she stink?’ and then there was like an open crutch shot… to see it, ‘Does she stink?’ it was just absolutely horrible…’
This carries with it the weight of a dense and intense occult history alongside the scandalous, and the disturbing horror of this plain talk is what Palmer subtly reveals as a drying up of the beautiful excess required as mishrash, a barreness and deafness that is defied by the stubbornness of the world’s secrets but which, nevertheless results in the horrors of Muti and the deadness of a question and an instruction both: ‘Does she stink?/Take your knickers off’.
‘Does she stink?’ This is the Dark Object that Katrina Palmer writes towards. Tutti’s ‘Does she stink?’ is the objective correlative of the line in her novel, ‘Take your knickers off’ spoken by a fictional Z in a fiction inside the fiction, a circular delirium neither possible nor preposterous but more a side effect of Jaromir Hladik’s dream in an apartment in the Zeltnergasse of Prague on the night of 14 March 1943 reported as ‘The Secret Miracle’ by Jorge Luis Borges and prefaced by a Koranic text, ‘ And God had him die for a hundred years and then revived him and said: ‘How long have you been here?’ ‘A day or a part of a day,’ he answered.’ Which is about having a right to your own opinions and perspectives, even if God contradicts you.
A point colludes with space yet must not contain any space. The Dark Object of Tuti and Palmer recognizes the inevitability of collusion. The spider is trapped in his own web. The finite extension is trapped by the possibility of further analysis. Zizek is used to raise the issue: How do we collude with the dreams of the rapist father to kill him? In the novel Z is Zizek. Zizek fantasises Dennis Hopper as psycho Frank in David Lynch’s film Blue Velvet as Isabella Rossellini’s Dorothy’s fantasy father rapist dream. According to Žižek the woman wants the rape. Z is the bad pervert of The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. Z is an ectoplasmic perve blob in this Semina episode by Katrina Palmer, released from a piece of furniture in the last story in a transformed state.
Žižek thinks that wimmen want what Frank wants them to want. Žižek is a loud-mouthed intellectual on the circuit. He gets called Elvis and is adored. He is a Lacanian psychologist rubbed up with the label Marxism. Yet he thinks that ‘suture’ explains how, in cinema, images run on beyond their closure, that there are things happening in the gaps between images. It is a theory that tries to relate time to image in order to explain how meaning is created out of the flickering montage of light. Jacques-Alain Miller made this approach hip in 1966, taking the Lacanian theory as a kind of weak magic. Yet throughout this there is the bad smell from his mouth, a ‘Does she stink/take your knickers off’ stench.
In the library of Babel Borges believed it likely that there was a total book of the Universe lying on one of its shelves. Its completeness requires the full story of the Dark Object. Perhaps Tuti and Palmer might work on this book and say that this book actually contained only two separate sentences separated by many blank pages: ‘Does she stink?’ and ‘Take your knickers off.’ Borges of course thought that what existed was limited by what was possible. The writers of Star Trek have Captain Kirk at one point asking for all possibilities to be investigated and after that the impossible too, which makes Kirk more sophisticated than Sherlock Holmes and Borges. Blindspots are regarded as impossible. So at risk of disagreeing with Borges, Palmer’s book becomes a curious disclosure of the impossible.
Facts about wimmin are like laws about vacuums. They seem impossible because there is nothing to be a law about. Randomness is absence of law. So a law of randomness is equally paradoxical. Laws of chance and wimmin come under Pascal’s stupefying name ‘The mathematics of chance.’ We stack the dice to see past the blindspot when we look at the numbers. Dice playing and the probabilities of numbers began this. Pausanias mentions a picture painted by Polygnotos in the fifth century which shows dice playing. Palamedo invented dice playing for bored Greek soldiers hanging around in the battle of Troy. Cardano’s treatise on dice De Ludo Aleae was published in 1663 a century after he wrote it. And from this roll all sorts of mysteries.
Laws of chance, probability and so on require solutions that insist that the perception of the problem is taken into account rather than merely the brute problem. And there seems no reason to ban infinities from such calculations. Even the smallest of incremental gains justifies any finite price in an infinite series.
Closure is never total so there’s always more than whatever meets the eye. Z is Palmer’s Žižek. Katrina Palmer is returning his favours by returning his pervert’s stare. It’s an unwavering eye. The prison is the desire for an uninterrupted drift of meaning, one that can accommodate Žižek as he leaps from crack to crack between images, exploding closure into his bossy delectation. All his delectation is the fictional point, the infinite Kabalistic book on the shelf of Borges’s Babel library that uses just two sentences to write the whole damned universe: ‘does she stink?’ and ‘Take your knickers off,’ a book that is larger than itself.
Palmer’s book reminded me of Episode 23 of Season 4 of The Avengers from March 1966, ‘The House That Jack Built’, scripted by the legendary Brian Clemens and directed by droogy Don Leaver. Emma Peel, played by Diana Rigg, is trapped in a house that is a box of psychedelic tricks designed to drive her mad and enter the suicide box. The house design was a black and white druggy labyrinthine design mounted on ingenious mechanicals blended with a computer brain and a stuffed corpse in a glass display. A repetitive thrumming white noise overlaid the repetitive sequences, a rhythm that suggested the occult undertow alongside the obvious sensational trappings of the scandalous plot .
The result was both cranky and quirky. The repetitive violence, confusion, immersion in a wild man’s fantasy is the core to the revolving, endless, murderous revenge of a corpse man. There is an everlasting, infinite, degenerative corruption of imagination at the heart of this version of Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, a world where objects are whatever a person wants them to be. The constant and remorseless repetitiveness undermined to some level the scandal plot. For too long the same thing happens again and again and this creates the murky idea that something is happening beneath the surface. It was an occasion when the occult plot took the upper hand in a popular tv action serial. There are episodes of Kojak where the same thing happens, but that’s for a different occasion.
There was a relentless, remorseless menace in the Avengers story and Katrina Palmer’s novel brilliantly keeps to that same atmosphere throughout, despite the cut-ins and ways, despite all those stories interposed between the Gothic escapades. The book stays slow, intriguing but also self-addicted more obviously than the scandalous plot should have allowed, like a very late Beckett. Addison Cole, like the erstwhile Mrs Peel, is also trapped, this time in a ‘School of Sculpture Without Objects,’ a version of ‘The House That Jack Built’, and is forbidden to create an object or escape. Throughout an atmosphere of unbearable menace follows a dark pool of anxiety that floods up, chokes her, threatens her with drowning and never ebbs.
Sinister grotesques appear and disappear, the book is fleshy and brainy, so sex and wounds occur throughout alongside the creepy expansion of a mind that seems to be part of some unhinged Kafkaesque parable. There’s a great scene where a dead Hegel disintegrates throughout a deadly discussion about the ideas of Slovoj Žižek, rattling his corpse bones like a scene from Jan Svankmajer. It’s also funny in a zany daft way, like episodes from the other cult 60’s tv show about nut-job labyrinths and ingenious escape, The Prisoner are. And as with The Prisoner and The Avengers there is always that thought of something chilling going on too, that the fun and games are eye-candy for deeper stirrings, serpents within serpents, subterranean magic.
By bringing Z into the narrative Palmer is re-appropriating his menacing cultural gigantism that threatens to deliver, in disguise, a complete master narrative and deny the beautiful excesses of Kabbalistic commentary. When it comes to wimmin you hear his creepy stupidity when he says, ‘you do something to a woman but you never know what the reaction will be’ in A Perverts Guide to Cinema.
Žižek’s fantasy spaces reach out like psychotic sex nutters; Palmer is fantasizing back, becoming a disruptive element in the symbolic order of aesthetic writing that Semina itself instantiates. She locks him is a desk drawer and then her pocket and turns him into an ectoplasmic blob. Originally just loose leafed pamphlets, the Semina writings have a gob on them rather than a voice, they talk back into itinerant, displaced, open-necked spaces, outside of galleries, more in the tradition of Mail Art where distances, times, places, objects and people sprawl out like spirit-weirds, so fantasies become unpoliced and their ambiguities and vaguenessness begin to collapse everything. Fantasy space reaches out like spectres, and any idea of there being a safe distance is lost in Duchamp’s urinal.
One thought is that labyrinths trap intellects like webs spiders. Although occasionally flies die in the webs the permanent occupant of the web is its spinner, ceaselessly trapped in its own trap. The thought of freedom is its trap. For the therapist the thought of the freedom of others is their trap. It is the corpse in the glass casement who is trapped in his own trap in ‘The House That Jack Built.’ In Teenage Hooker the murderous raping teacher is caught in his own careerism, and in Dead Snow the chief nazi zombie in his own box of gold coins. In The Dark Object it is Z, caught in his own pervert eye.
Emma Peel in ‘The House That Jack Built’ escapes by penetrating the computer with a radioactive key. As she leaves the audience are given a glimpse of the machines that made the house a trap, revealing the obvious mechanisms of oppression but concealing others. In Teenage Hooker the dead girl is rebuilt and returns to shoot the teacher who raped her in strange hallucinatory images that reminded me of the rape of Dinah by Shechem in Genesis 34:3. The issue there was how to translate the Hebrew word ‘nefesh’ into English so as not to suggest fidelity and honour. The unfulfilled lust of Shechem for Dinah remains even after the rape, and finding an English word that caught all this and all the additional mysteriousness of ‘nefesh’ was exactly the problem for English translators. For the film director of Teenage Hooker, his problem was to ensure that the scandalous plot didn’t obliterate the occult plot, and vice versa. The poetic brilliance of Nam Ki-Woong’s images and sound enables the violence and revenge to translate the nuances of lust in the film to an extent that extended the depth of awareness of the girl’s anger and tragedy.
Both in ‘The House that Jack Built’ and in Teenage Hooker the wimmin release themselves from the grip of an overwhelming master narrative by turning back the male gaze in an explicit phallic symbolism: in one Emma Peel jams a large key into the computer’s hole, in the other the teenage hooker rams her literally phallicised gun into the open mouth of the murderous teacher. In The Dark Object, however, Addison Cole receives a gift, some soft fruit, in her hand which then goes deep inside. This then is a different resolution, one where Cole returns the feminine into herself rather than resorting to the carnivalesque reversal of gender that characterises the other two plots.
She takes within herself soft fruit, clothed by a mutual touching hand, the very other side of the crude question and bullying instruction that Z has been made, on this reading, to partly instantiate. The gift reaches deep inside her that frees her into warmth and away from him. It is a mysterious, occult transaction. ‘Without knowing how it’s happened, I’ve got it deep inside, he’s gone and I’m out.’ It is a miracle of translation, that ‘intensest rendezvous’ that Stevens writes about : ‘ Within a single thing, a single shawl/Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,/A light, a power, the miraculous influence.’ It is an answer to the intense question our (Swiss) Heideggar and Holderlin and Stevens – ‘what are times for in times of poverty?’ Cole rendezvous with Z, their hands enclose and then she is wrapped in a warmth that frees her like ‘a necessary angel of earth’, one who has made ‘a dwelling in the evening air.’
Palmer’s heroine stares back at the assumptions riddling Z’s Lacanian college and detonates each of its insidious ideas with a counter story that substantiates her resistance. Yet The Dark Object remains a parable, a dark speech, retains its mysterious relationship with concealing as well as unconcealing. It winds its many tongues, its many stories, with the other Semina texts, their other stories, forming a Canon within a Canon ‘out of this same mind, out of the central mind’ that knows ‘poetry is the subject of a poem’ and that the dimensions of scandalous and the occult are, as ever, Pascal’s, Kafka’s necessary lies.” – Richard Marshall


“‘Dear Professor Žižek

It is very cunning of you to get around the problem of replying to my emails by including messages to me in your books. I now understand that The School of Sculpture Without Objects is just a symbolic construct...’

Set within a notional art school in which the Rector’s paranoid conceptual ideology has prohibited the making of objects, one student remains. Increasingly isolated in The School of Sculpture Without Objects and battling with institutional directives and solitary confinement, Addison Cole exercises the prohibition on making things by writing stories, in which the protagonists only meet through the creation of fantasy scenarios. These narrate a series of explicit encounters with texts, objects and artists. Authorial figures are reduced to their pornographic effect: Slavoj Žižek becomes a impotent sexual metaphor, Hegel a skeletal spectre, the anonymous ‘Jay’, Žižek’s lactating Oedipal fantasy, the Rector a scrofulous, paranoid lech.

Made up of inter-related but self-contained short stories, The Dark Object explores the tension between the restraint of narrative form, and the explosion of ontic instability. It aims not to subsume fantasy into the everyday, but rather demonstrate that everything is real, and the everyday is fantastical.



Ursule Molinaro - I've been sleeping with my great-grandmother's left thigh bone under my pillow since my seventeenth birthday

Ursule Molinaro, Positions with White Roses, McPherson, 1989.

"After a self-imposed 12-year exile in Europe, a young woman finally returns home to visit her twin sister and parents. It is the holidays, but this homecoming goes awry from the start. For years the elderly parents have hardly spoken to each other, and the sister, Laura, who always before has come home at this time of year, is inexplicably absent. And yet, as parents and the visiting daughter assume their positions around the Christmas dinner table and its centerpiece of white roses, Laura's absence is transformed into a palpably overwhelming presence. Thus, the stage is set for an explosive confrontation as the family's story unfolds in what Marianne Hauser has called "a superb achievement, highly readable, profound and unrivaled."

"A world of conflicting emotions is packed into the book - a slim novel as novels go... Yet as we reach the end, we are enriched and dazzled, as if we had been whisked through a cosmic adventure." - American Book Review
Ursule Molinaro, Thirteen: Stories, Mcpherson, 1989.

"In an advance assessment of this collection of short stories, novelist Joseph McElroy remarked: "As erotic in their energy as they are poignantly unpredictable, these fictions challenge us to be as brave and free as any reincarnation we might imagine. They are mirrors and windows, reflecting a lifetime of dazzling invention." Ursule Molinaro has written more than 200 stories which have appeared in scores of journals, including Evergreen Review, Denver Quarterly, New American Review, Bennington Review, Best American Short Stories and TriQuarterly. The stories collected here represent some of her most exceptional pieces from the past 20 years: An unhappily married woman compulsively eavesdrops on her neighbor's daily trysts; a filmmaker photographs the brutal attack of her psychotic lover; a disincarnated spirit witnesses the charity sale of her worldly possessions; a rebellious slave is given his freedom--and a rebellious slave of his own; a sanguine young career woman ends her Hawaiian holiday in a violent collision with the local culture. These are 13 tales of intensely private worlds where the bizarre is a quietly insistent force - "an unbalanced, violent world," writes Kirkus Reviews, "where the distance between people is always too wide for them to cross."

"A doctor sets up a suicide parlor where people "could go to die in peace, painlessly . . . 24 hours a day, 7 days a week"; a 19th century housewife kills herself after she has failed to store sufficient provisions for a protracted winter, and, in a note, exhorts her family to eat her corpse. A recently divorced woman entertains her former spouse's nephew in the nude--unwittingly; another woman ruminates on a relationship she enjoyed at age 32 with a 17-year-old; a third confesses, "They've arrested me for eating the baby." Similarly morbid or perverse concerns preoccupy the other protagonists in these short stories. Molinaro ( Positions with White Roses ) observes her characters with unusual acuity. Her experimental style, however, encompasses distracting, eventually grating mannerisms, such as idiosyncratic punctuation and frequent amputation of subjects from sentences: "He makes a cult of cats. & quotes a famous painter whose name he can't remember. Who said that ..." - Publishers Weekly

"I've been sleeping widt my great-grandmother's left thigh bone under my pillow since my seventeenth birthday..." is the way "Shadowplay on Snow" begins, one of thirteen stories that represent the best of Molinaro's short fiction over twenty years. A witty dismembering of her personal history narrated in sentence fragments. That may. Or may not. Drive a reader to distraction. In Molinaro's world, the bizarre is commonplace. We meet Mrs. Feathergill, an unhappy housewife whose daily .,soap" is watching her neighbor's trysts; psychiatrist Arnold Biedermeir who imagines he's becoming ear-shaped after listening to hundreds of patients' woes; a sixteenth-century tavemowner's wife who falls in love with a pale-eyed executioner who is, in fact, female; a disembodied spirit who witnesses the charity sale of her worldly possessions; and a young career woman, murdered on the first night of her Hawaiian holiday. A violent eroticism propels Molinaro's most memorable characters. A young thug the narrator rescues in "AC-DC" offers himself to her after shooting her upstairs neighbor. He then disappears to offer equal-opporamity favors to the victim's wife. At least half of the stories in Thirteen are gems, spiked with surprise endings and as brilliantly inventive as they are unpredictable. But the wit that mesmerizes a reader of Molinaro's short fiction is absent in Positions with White Roses, her autobiographical novel about a prodigal daughter's return. The scene is Christmas dinner at her parents' home in the Napa Valley, where the centerpiece is the family's traditional "silver bowl with fresh white roses." A longing to break the oppressive silence that surrounds her parents' strained marriage prompts the daughter to recall her sexual past, not the least of which is her relationship to a twin. Her hunchbacked sister, Laura, aroused local males by her beauty, but it was the less striking sister they tumbled in the bushes. There are hints in this novel of the grace that connected sexual Ereedom with authenticity in Molinaro's shorter work, but here the narrative is freighted with historical parallels, lectures, and intellectual asides. Such abstractions defuse the story-line's erotic energy." - Independent Publisher

"Molinaro’s stories hex and delight us. And make us shiver." - Review of Contemporary Fiction

"The frame of reference in many of the stories in Ursule Molinaro's 13 is the normal, everyday, middle-class world.. The only thing is, most of her characters live at the very edge of the frame, where the slightest wrong move can tip them out of the picture altogether. Off into some high-literary Twilight Zone that, these stories suggest, lies waiting just the slightest gesture away. ... There's a wry gallows humor here that can be pretty wicked."- City Paper

"Sexual tension - the confused, hungry, stoppered-up sexual drives of solitary middle-aged women - is a recurring motif in Thirteen, turning [Molinaro's] women into late-summer strangers unto themselves." - New York Press and Baltimore's City Paper

"It is rare indeed to come upon a book which provides grand entertainment while we learn how to re-evaluate human mores from cannibalism to virtue, from sex to death."- Marianne Hauser
Ursule Molinaro, The New Moon With the Old Moon in Her Arms: A True Story Assembled from Scholarly Hearsay, McPherson, 1993.

"In a yearly ritual the citizens of ancient Athens chased a couple in wedding regalia through the streets under a hail of stones, to shouts of "Out with sickness and famine! In with health and wealth!" The broken bodies were left to decompose outside the city gates. Normally the victims would come from among society's downtrodden or outcasts, and exchange their lives for a year of luxury at the city's expense. But in defiance of tradition, and as an expression of protest, a poet from an aristocratic family volunteers her flawless 30-year-old body. This is her story."

"In a learned, readable style, Molinaro makes up a feminist fiction that...is finally human and moving. ...[A] historical fiction, written in a postmodernist fragmented style (which mostly works), about a woman who's full of 'causes that concerned me only as fillers for my audienceless, loveless life' and who comes finally to a tragic maturity." - Kirkus Reviews

"Molinaro's clever feminist novella is actually more like an extended (perhaps even a little attenuated) anecdote, set in ancient Athens. The female narrator is a nameless 30-year-old poet who has volunteered to be sacrificed by stoning on the feast day of Thargelia in order to expiate the sins and cure the illnesses of the city's inhabitants. Since the sacrificial "bride" is highly visible for a year before her death, our heroine sees the self-sacrifice as striking a blow for women's rights in an increasingly patriarchal Athens. However, her plans for death are upset when she becomes involved with a young girl and her sponge-diver father. Molinaro alternates passages from the poet's diary with lengthy disquisitions on Greek culture, from moon worship to medicine, revealing repeatedly how the female aspects of that culture have dropped from our view. These veritable footnotes lend the diary a historical context that in turn gives considerable resonance to the book's surprisingly downbeat ending. Molinaro shifts from a wry, bemused tone to one of melancholy, suggesting the irreconcilable nature of the male/female conflict that is at the center of the story and of the history that Molinaro recounts." - Publishers Weekly

"A nameless poet narrates this account of her year in waiting as a Thargelia bride in ancient Greece. According to the custom, a ritual bride and groom are stoned to death by their fellow Athenians as they slowly make their way through the city streets. The stones are meant to symbolize specific sins and diseases that the citizens wish to be rid of. In a world that has become male-dominated and militaristic, the poet, who is the beautiful daughter of a respected philosopher, decides (under the influence of Circe, the moon goddess) to sacrifice herself in order to call attention to discrimination against women in general and educated, working women in particular. With interesting digressions on topics ranging from the lunar calendar to men's fashion to natural medicine, this suspenseful narrative deserves a place in women's fiction collections." - Barbara Love
Ursule Molinaro, Fat Skeletons, Serif, 1994.

"Novelist/translator Molinaro's (The New Moon with the Old Moon in Her Arms) latest novel is a suspense fantasy of romance, betrayal and plagiarism, set both in contemporary Greenwich Village and a bygone Prague. Her vivid, disaffected protagonist-a 42-year-old Czech-born translator-wastes no time in flaunting ample evidence of her translating abilities, her command of New York grit or her European sophistication. Yet Mara's authorly gifts remain stifled, smothered by an oppressive childhood and haunted by a first love destroyed by crass deception. Her projected novella chronicling past lovers (mostly disappointing) remains blocked, until the slothful and penniless writer Mandy Murdoch comes begging a last-minute translation. Here, the cascade of Calvino-esque signs begins, as Molinaro delightedly layers dark remnants torn from Mara's past with an almost slapstick present. It is obviously a great deal of witty fun-if the reader identifies with Mara's searing brilliance, a brilliance that eclipses all the other terribly mundane folks. Less obvious, however, is the absurdist, sly, cynical Eastern European humor. And while the self-consciously hipsterized, fairy-tale ending might suit Hollywood, it seems incongruent here." - Publishers Weekly
Ursule Molinaro, Demons & Divas: Three Novels, McPherson, 2000.

"For this trilogy of short novels--her first new book in six years--Ursule Molinaro drew upon a wealth of sources (including Balzac, Flaubert, and Hildegard of Bingen) to transform the grotesqueries of our time into timeless tales.
Angel on Fire presents Clara Corvo, who was born with three peculiarities--a cloven hoof, phenomenal intelligence, and clairvoyance. Her mother finds her unbearable, and to escape her family takes a young student as a lover. When six-year-old Clara matriculates at Harvard Law School, an almost classical conclusion is inevitable.
In twenty letters gathered for the pending canonization of Jacob Erskine Wooster, a picture emerges not of humility but of large contraditions in an ordinary man whose beatification is as strange as his life. Saint Boy is Diane Arbus in prose.
In April in Paris, Molinaro spins Southern gothic into French embroidery. An American woman out of her element wherever she happens to be."

"This compact & carefully constructed trilogy of short novels - Angel on Fire, Saint Boy and April in Paris - focuses on seemingly ordinary characters, viewing them through a screen of mythological and biblical symbols and endowing them with double identities. In Angel on Fire, the Corvo family's balance is disrupted by the arrival of a seventh child and first daughter, Clara, born with a hoof in the place of one foot but also with precocious intelligence and prescience. From the moment of her birth, Clara is an emotional lightning rod. By age five, she has inspired worship and devotion in her father, brothers and her kindergarten classmates, but also jealousy and frustrated rage in women, including her own mother. In Saint Boy, Molinaro continues to question what makes a person worthy of admiration, or in the extreme case she documents, what makes a saint. Reading through a dramatic and passionate series of letters from those who knew (or didn't know) him, the hagiographers of the beatified (but not yet canonized) Jacob Erskine Wooster must reconstruct the life of this so-called "everyday saint." In April in Paris, April Mentone n?e Winslow presents her recollections of her expatriate life in Europe, but April's tenuous grasp on reality gives her a confused memory of her American past. Transporting her characters from Sicily to New York to Athens, from Sioux Falls to Los Angeles to Greece, and from Richmond to Vienna to Paris, Molinaro communicates a sense of displacement and manages to cover vast stretches of time and space. Translator, playwright, and author of 13 novels (Fat Skeleton, etc.), Molinaro reveals the extraordinary in the ordinary, injecting elements of the fantastic into her curious modern fables." - Publishers Weekly

"What good fortune to have three new novels, as exquisitely unruly as ever, from our grande dame of innovative fiction. Ursule Molinaro, wonderfully undiminished in her powers after four decades, has given us one thoroughly modern mother as willful as Clytemnestra, one unpleasant old Southern belle off on her geriatric adventures, and a cunning update of the epistolary form, all in one handy volume I think of as The Portable, Indispensable Molinaro." - Jaimy Gordon

"These stinging comedies of manners go right to the root of contemporary hypocrisy. Molinaro's gaze is unflinching, yet hyperaesthetic. Her kaleidoscopic prose and wry humor make for rich, effortless reading." - Bruce Benderson

"Ursule Molinaro's new book is a suite of three sharply satirical novellas, and the title appropriately describes all three protagonists, whose actions range from the diabolical to the operatic. The first novella, "Angel on Fire," is about Clara, an extraordinary 5-year-old with a full measure of demonic qualities, most notably a cloven hoof and an unforgivably precocious intellect. Her mother is unable to love her; not knowing what else to do, she sends her little daughter off to Harvard, where Clara immediately starts working on her doctoral disseration. In "Saint Boy," twin sister journalists appeal to the public for supporting letters in their campaign to win sainthood for an obscure artist named Jacob Erskine Wooster, who is said to have attended their school in California. The final novella, "April in Paris," follows the tragic footsteps of a woman named April who returns to her native Virginia after 50 years in Paris. April isn't sure how to live in a country that has changed so radically in her absence; in her view, gentility has turned into bigotry. Molinaro has a fine instinct for the grotesque, and a talent for providing laughter in the midst of tears; we are told, for example, that Wooster regularly whipped his daughter, not out of sadism but because "they had lost all other means of communication." - William Ferguson

"In Demons and Divas, Ursule Molinaro invites her readers to enter a strange, uncomfortable world, settles them down, and then promptly kicks them out. The first and most engaging story, "Angel on Fire," is a multi-layered read, incorporating mythology, gender roles, and a little girl who is much scarier than the "I see dead people" kid.... Molinaro ends the story in a grotesque and unexpected twist that leaves it readers both repulsed and craving more....The second story, "Saint Boy," takes the form of a hagiography (the writing or study of saints' lives) and consists of 20 letters from different people describing their relationships to a modern day (soon-to-be) saint from California whose questionable qualities are defended in a hilariously preposterous, yet always imaginative style....The final entry, "April in Paris,"...is offered amidst a level of dysfunction that rivals even the best of Woody Allen....Molinaro is like a fiery cocktail: two parts Greek mythology, one part religion, a dash of sex--pour over an ensemble of extraordinary characters and shake until your teeth are jarred. Drink immediately." - Eloise Campbell

"...I finally picked it up. I couldn't put it down. Each of its three short novels is a tour de force of style and strangeness. Humorously biting takes on our often blurry perceptions of good and evil, Molinaro's surreal, fabulistic tales unfold as perfectly synchronized jumbles of events and emotions, perceptions and misperceptions. She writes as if she were talking, yet she talks like a highly accomplished writer, revealing details in a precise, necessarily peculiar order. Her non sequiturs sequitur in spades to conjure powerfully sophisticated narratives." - The News & Observer
Ursule Molinaro, A Full Moon of Women, McPherson, 1993.

Subtitled "29 word portraits of notable women from different times and places, + 1 void of course," this book is a powerful, unsettling vision in the tradition of Anais Nin and Djuna Barnes of those heroines whose rebellious daring shaped the meaning of the feminine experience. In these miniature biographies of Charlotte Corday, Joan of Arc, Lucy Goodale Thurston, Clara Schumann, Simone Weil, Alice Neel, Zenobia, Mu-Lan Hwa, Adele Hugo, among many others, and naturally including Snow White, Molinaro's prose impacts with consistent force, resurrecting these forgotten or disparaged women in all their talent and suffering.

"'May you never have a child who's a saint,' Simone Weil's mother told her daughter's biographer in exasperation. Prodigies often fatigue the ordinary if well-meaning parent. Yet in the novelist and playwright Ursule Molinaro's spirited new collection...it's a sentiment echoed not just by parents but by spouses, lovers, and offspring of the notable women who are examined here: writers, warriors, schietists, artists, mystics, martyrs.... Molinaro is at her best when showing these women, warts and all -- the compromises of ambition, the hesitations of character. As in her longer fiction, Ms. Molinaro displays a poetic eye for detail in these short sketches." - New York Times Book Review

Ursule Molinaro, Power Dreamers: The Jocasta Complex, McPherson, 1995.

"Everyone knows the tragedy of Oedipus, from his answer to the Sphinx to his pitiable blind exile, from his intended death as an infant to his terror of oracles. But who knows of Jocasta -- the mother from whom he was torn, the wife to whom he was joined -- as anything other than a plaything of kings and gods? In this richly imagined novel, Ursule Molinaro brings Jocasta to the fore, allowing her to reclaim rightful significance as matrilineal Queen of Thebes, a dreamer of shared power. Ruler, mother, lover -- defiant of gods' wrath -- Jocasta becomes an intelligent and compassionate actor, as well as a courageous person helplessly caught in a conflict of totem and taboo. The voices of Jocasta and the sex-changing palace seer Tiresias, and the letters of Oedipus and Antigone, combine to tell of these thirty-seven years in the history of the seven-gated city: how, by marrying her son, Jocasta became the woman without whom Oedipus has no story."

"It's the flip side of the Oedipus Complex, what Freud might have made of the Greek tragedy had he been a woman and a novelist." - Kirkus Reviews

"This is a fascinating psychological portrait of a woman who refuses to believe she is but a puppet and who uses her intelligence and guile to try to win the chess game of the gods." - Library Journal

"Molinaro is one of those rare artists who can take on the myths and drama of antiquity, and spin them into something new without sacrificing their grandeur and humanity."- Elizabeth Hand

"Her works breathe a humane authenticity and emotional and political directness which is so simple and integral one wonders how these versions of the old stories have not been told before." - The Reader's Review

Ursule Molinaro, The Autobiography of Cassandra, Princess & Prophetess of Troy, McPherson, 1992.

"This novel tells the Homeric story of Troy from the perspective of the woman who was condemned not to be believed - the perfect spokesperson for a contemporary feminist novel. Written with Molinaro's typical flair for concision, Cassandra is second only to the classic Positions with White Roses as Molinaro's best novel. And Molinaro has been sensitive to readers whose knowledge of Greek mythology is imperfect (meaning: all of us) by providing a witty glossary of the mortals and gods who people this dramatic story of courage and sacrifice. (Note: This novel was originally published in hardcover in 1979, four years prior to the better-known and possibly derivative one on the same theme by Christa Wolf)."

"Molinaro's tender and subtly polemical reconstruction of the Iliad is a great book to read for its exploration of the themes that educated thousands of generations in the West, of women's role in every socieity, of mother/daughter legacies. Its irreverent take on the most famous war and its starkly moving female voices are closer to my heart than any in Homer..." - Euridice

"Cassandra begins her autobiography at that point near her life's end as she approaches the palace of Mycenae where Clytemnestra will murder both her and Agamemnon. Remembering, reliving, and researching her own life for over three thousand years as she repeatedly tells us, the narrator offers many fascinating, even entertaining revisions concerning the battle of Troy and its participants: Cassandra informs the reader that Penelope slept with every one of her quarreling suitors while waiting for the bowlegged, dwarflike Odysseus, and that among Achilles' sexual peculiarities cross-dressing stands out in her memory! In the process of telling her own tale Cassandra clarifies a number of what have become legendary relationships from a variety of angles: those of Helen and Paris, Polyxena and Achilles, Penthesileia and Achilles, Andromache and Hector, and Hecabe and Priam are the most prominent among them.
All of her elucidations and emendations revolve ultimately around women's position in Greek society as portrayed by Homer, "blind & lyrical," a position she consistently juxtaposes against the preceding matriarchal reign of the Great Mother, Gaia, when priestesses flourished and women held office. Reviewing her own life from a three-thousand-year-old perspective as she repeatedly confirms, she also compares Homeric society with our own.
The Autobiography of Cassandra first appeared in hardcover in 1979. There are amazing similarities between Molinaro's Cassandra and the Cassandra novel of the German writer Christa Wolf, which it predates by four years. Most striking is the identical setting at the opening of the novels before the palace gates. Molinaro, like Wolf, opts for a first-person narration. Choppy conversational prose that sometimes reads like the script of a telephone conversation, sarcastic, ironic, and always concise, is characteristic of Molinaro's Cassandra.
For the unseasoned adventurer into Homeric myth there is a glossary of "Mortals and Immortals" provided at the end of the volume. But even for the reader without much knowledge or interest in the old myths, Molinaro provides a diverse array of interpersonal relationships that too often touch a sensitive contemporary nerve in the network that encompasses men, women, and power." - Lynda Hoffman-Jeep

"An original and convincing theory of the hows and whys of the low status of women in Greek society, a paradoxical fact that has often puzzled students of a literature so rich in strong female roles... A book to be read for personal pleasure, for exploration of mother/daughter themes, and of potential use in women's studies courses." - Library Journal

"On 10 July 2000 the writer Ursule Molinaro passed away at her home in downtown Manhattan. She had been bedridden for about two weeks after a traumatic stay in hospital, against her will. Aside from numerous manuscripts, literary magazines, and published books--for which I have become the literary executor--she left little behind. The effects of Ursule Molinaro, including her archives, now total one ingeniously crammed storage space about the size of a small bathroom, maintained by her daughter Isabelle Molinaro, around the corner from her former apartment on East Second Street. Her age and place of birth are still shrouded in the mystery she imposed upon them. Her career as a prolific fiction writer, playwright, painter, and translator of French, German, and Italian is now relatively obscure, despite a prodigious output and a small band of enthusiastic colleagues, readers, creative-writing students, friends, and publisher Bruce McPherson--all of whose lives and crafts were irremediably influenced by her.
Like Nabokov, Molinaro was a European transplant to America who made the decision to put herself through the arduous process of learning to write in her new language. She came to the United States in 1946, probably around the age of thirty, from Paris, to work as a French language proofreader for the newly formed United Nations. At that time, she had published one book of poetry in French, called Rimes et raisons (1946). Due to a passion for language as well as an education in Germany, Italy, France, and England, she was already astonishingly multilingual, to the extent that she could speak the languages of all these countries fluently with no discernable accent. Another small book of prose with six illustrations by Leon Kelly, Petit manuel pour la circulation dans le neant, was published two years later.
Molinaro's literary roots were decidedly international and modernist, based on her rich education and her travels and her proficiency in languages. She admired Baudelaire, Goethe, Faulkner, Beckett, Giraudoux, Cocteau, and Tennessee Williams. She deeply disliked literature she felt was based on gossip, and for that reason was known to skewer with great contempt the work of Proust, who she thought was a deplorable stylist, badly in need of editing. She also was a deprecator of Anglo-Saxon naturalism, holding up Dickens as an example of the type of literal-minded writer one should not aspire to be. She was more likely to evince a passion for the decadent writer Huysmans, and she admired Lorca and D'Annunzio. Of course, she was able to read all of these writers in their original language.
At some point in the 1950s, presumably after Molinaro had made the switch from writing in French to writing in English, influential literary agent Georges Borchardt decided to represent her. This association would prove fruitful in the 1960s and early 1970s, when her novels would be published by Harper & Row and New American Library in the United States and Julliard and Grasset in French, but it would dry up by the late seventies, when Molinaro began to seem unmarketable to the Borchardt agency and began to receive less and less attention from them.
The first people to publish Molinaro in the States were Cecil Hemley of Noonday and Themistocles Hoetis, who was editor of Zero. One of the Molinaro stories from Cecil Hemley's magazine Prism, "The Insufficient Rope," would later be included in the 1963 anthology Best American Short Stories. Starting in 1958, Molinaro was co-founder and fiction editor of the Chelsea Review, which began to publish some of the most innovative and avant-garde work on the international scene, including hers. However, she gave up that editorship in 1965, partly because of increasingly negative relations with the magazine's moneyed benefactor and co-editor Sonia Raiziss, with whose young adopted son, Peter St. Mu, Molinaro had fallen deeply in love. By 1964, with the publication of her first novel, The Borrower, in a French translation of her original English version, she already had emerged as an important playwright on the off-off Broadway scene and a noted short-story writer. (1) This must have been the time when the fully formed persona of "Ursule Molinaro, American writer" emerged. This new persona was, in part, a miraculous disappearing act, an attempt to excise not only her voice as a French writer, but many of the painful memories of her European childhood and her incarceration during the German occupation of France. Although she rarely provided details about her upbringing, in the 1990s she did write a book-length text, still unpublished, which she playfully described as a memoir, although she never revealed how factual or imaginary it was. It describes an extremely alienated little girl, brought up by a widowed mother in a high-bourgeois or perhaps aristocratic, provincial European household of mostly unsympathetic adult relatives, including a sadistically hostile grandmother. Molinaro's later flight throughout France in an attempt to evade occupation authorities and her subsequent imprisonment during the occupation, presumably for hiding a Jewish couple in her home, are alluded to in several stories and plays, and they obviously became a devastating focus for her ideas about the cruelty of the human species and the tyranny of nationalism.
These traumatic events form in part the basis of her literary rebellion against family values, nationalistic hegemony, and the literary tradition of biography. Henceforth she would never associate herself with any family history or single ethnicity in her conversations. It was as if she had exiled all the disagreeable facts of her biography--especially those dealing with progeny and nation--to the realm of fiction, where, rather than repressing them, she was free to take a kind of revenge upon them--to rework them into satirical, philosophical, or political metaphors. Once Molinaro became established as an American writer, her origins and age--her entire past--would be a matter of speculation. The only clues to these were in her fiction. Few photos of her from the past or present ever appeared--she accused photography of stealing the surface while betraying the inner life--and interviewers often left frustrated in their attempts to draw the "story" of her life from her.
In her rebellion against the biographical tradition, as well as family and ethnic history, Ursule Molinaro eventually cast herself into a universe of one. Her obstinate honing of individuality would continue for four more decades of writing mostly fiction and plays. Her literary contacts would become less mainstream as time passed. Often working alone in a cultural vacuum, with little community support, Molinaro the ideologue and artist had only one strength upon which to rely--her prodigious literary craft. In a version of the Nietzschean superwoman, she had invented herself and her world. It was a world of social judgments and political values, but it has turned out to be no easy ally of that fusion of sociology and psychoanalysis we call new historicism or that blatant political activism in the world of literary scholarship that thinks of fiction as a minor platform. Molinaro's texts elude such analyses because they are obstinately and saliently eccentric. They are the crowning achievements of an individuality, loaded with her penchants, commonsense wisdom, multicultural tidbits, occult notions, and word play. Her character portrayals are always antipsychoanalytic (as was she), adhering more to pre-Freudian ideas of innate character, the interplay of humans and nature, existential choices, and even astrology than to formulas of early childhood experience.
Despite these eccentric characteristics, from the late 1970s, Molinaro's writing was often described as feminist. It is true that her fiction and plays show a pronounced concern with the injustices of social power. She is most at home when dealing with the mentalities or behavior of oppressed women as well as minority races, gays, and animals. Of course, such a perspective comes as no surprise. She grew up feeling oppressed in her own childhood home. In conversations with me she often expressed deep dissatisfaction with the roles available to women in her lifetime. She was, from a fairly early time in the twentieth century, an advocate of sexual freedom who enjoyed two husbands and affairs with several men and, most probably, some women. Although she had one daughter, she rejected the conventional role of motherhood, and her daughter spent most of her early years not with Molinaro but with Molinaro's mother. In her life, then, she resembled her characters: renegade women who insist upon libidinal freedom and authority. In addition, Molinaro's dissatisfaction with women's roles took blatant form in her novel … " - Bruce Benderson

Ariana Reines - To shove the brains into the guts, to shove the material fact of bodies into the nothingness they often seem to be disgorging

Ariana Reines, The Cow, Fence, 2006.

"To call Ariana Reines' poetry scatological doesn't even scratch the surface. "I COULD BE A DIAPER FOR THE DAY'S RESIDUALS," she writes, and, "She clasped the event to her and proceeded. Fucked her steaming/ eyehole and ended it." The Cow is a body in the way that texts are bodied—"Are you so intelligent your body doesn't have you in it."—but not in the way that allows the text to become desensitized, depersonalized, sterilized. Instead this text is filthy and fertilized, filling and emptying, filling and emptying, atrocious and politic with meaning. The Cow is a mother, a lover, and a murdered lump of meat, rendered in the strongest of languages. "I cannot count the altering that happens in the very large rooms that are the guts of her." - Dennis Cooper

"The Cow, Reines's first book, opens lyrically: 'The day is a fume. At starboard, a white kirtle which is the moon. The day has a hallmark, the night also.' This lyricism is sustained for a few poems, but soon thereafter the sensual grit of Reines's project rears its head and dominates the book: 'I held his cock while he peed with it.' The Cow draws its imagery extensively, and explicitly, from the cow, its body, and the human and its body; it flirts with certain grrrl fierceness, but the work ultimately feels less invested in gender per se than in humanness. The book as a whole is concerned with processing, production, and rendering, and while a poem might focus on the processing of an animal into various products for human consumption, Reines is also concerned with how we humans are 'processed' through our relationships with others and through the approximations of language. Both identity and meaning are multifarious, interconnected: 'Everything is part of something.' In this way the cow is animal, product, woman, and action: 'I am not the nice man in the mart I am the mart itself, which is inside of a dog... I am inside of him and a mart isn't an I.' The body is not only image or occasion to write, but integral to the act of creation: 'My whole body writes.' And just as the various parts of the cow as product are graphically detailed, language itself can be broken apart ('an umlaut could be a cousin's bone') or condensed or ground up ('glv ovr me. Brns; ozne'). As interested as Reines is in communication and representation, she seems to retain a healthy dose of suspicion in her project, beginning her final poem with the line 'Does a resemblance really mean anything.' There is a desire in this narrator to 'empty language out of me,' but after such a visceral defecation, what is left? 'What. Now What,' she writes, and like Beckett, she embraces her paradox, finishing The Cow on "Go on. Go on." - Emily Wolahan

"No doubt about it, this is strong and original work. Scary in the best possible way." - Richard Foreman

"OK, that is a slaughterhouse on the cover of The Cow, and those are dead cattle. Framed by the clinical language of a livestock manual, Ariana Reines's first book runs language, culture and sex through a meat grinder, and the results are not pretty. Perhaps those who like poetry or sausage should not watch it being made. But as the Koran points out, “Do you then believe in a part of the book and disbelieve the other?” Reines insists on showing us “the other side of the animal.”
Consider vomit and velleity. It's not a matter of whether one word is poetic, and the other not. It's not just a matter of balancing diction so that the same poem can plausibly use both words—let alone the same poet. It's a matter of using vomit to describe a real transaction between inside and outside, retaining all its disgust, the reflex of it, as a way to address ideas like cultural bulimia without hiding behind the adjective. In the same way, velleity needs a similar anchoring: used non-ironically, it can still compare the language of consciousness with the fingertip precision of sewing lace. In both cases, the feedback loop is profoundly physical. Unfortunately, both times “velleities” is used, it is misspelled. Either way, Reines’s relationship with language is fraught, ambivalent, and serious. The work contains quotes from Ashbery, Baudelaire, Burroughs, Proust, Rilke, Stein, and the Bible, among others.
Reines's work is undeniably raw and powerful. Her verbal shredding has none of the clinical neatness of the computer algorithm, or the vaguely reassuring frisson of scissors on paper. The insistence on blood, shit, cum and guts within an experimental framework reminds me of Armand Schwerner's The Tablets, down to the use of a similar sans serif typeface, but it also sets up useful contrasts. While Schwerner's sense of cultural transformations is similarly sexual and his body parts are similarly scaled, stacked and strewn, Reines will not let the aura of myth slur the body count. The cow is sacred, a mother, a lover—and equally, “murdered meat.”
Reines removes the scholarly mask and talks even more directly: the harshly clinical frame of the manual and the constant sense of the body as muscle, blood, and water make the possibility of rebirth or any meaningful myth much less luminous, and much filthier. She reminds us that the cultural construction of bulimia is not that different from putting a portal in the stomach of a cow so that the digestion process can be seen. The myths are real. It is the people, the bodies that are ruined, not the tablets or the statues. She writes, “We were the real's dead mimes”. No warm nests to return to here. Only slits, gashes, and holes. Reines scolds us: "We are going to be smarter about these things from now on."
In “Item,” Reines combines a discussion of feedlot/slaughterhouse practices, and the advent of mad cow disease with the story the speaker’s down-and-out mother, once a medical practitioner, walking downtown from Washington Heights to ask her for money for a steak. This wraps itself around a discussion of language and truth. After describing how cows cannot digest their forced diet of corn without massive doses of antibiotics, she writes: “A wimple fell over the real as if to protect it: a ruckus in the girl is artificial as anything, fortified by nutrients.” Despite the tone of this line, Reines often calls the ironist's bluff by using language as literally as possible. She calls the cyberpoet's bluff by calling our attention not only to shredded texts and the cultural commodification of desire, but actual holes in physical bodies. She might even call Beckett's bluff: she is not convinced that language can’t describe real things, but the purgatory effort is just as bleak and wearying as anything Beckett’s characters confront.
'What happens to the world when a body is a bag of stuff you can empty out of it.
Errors, musculatures.
Can I empty language out of me.
What difference does it make how a thing dies. Consciousness. Nobody knows
what that is.'

Be warned: the obsession with bodily functions is pushed past the comfort zone, however sturdy your sealegs. Reines wants to make you sick, and shock you into a different place. The last stanza of “Advertisement” reads:
'You have got to sometimes become the medicine you want to take. You have got to, absolutely got to put your face into the gash and sniff, and lick. You have got to learn to get sick. You have got to reestablish the integrity of your emotions so that their violence can become a health and so that you can keep on becoming. There is no sacrifice. You have got to want to live. You have got to force yourself to want to.'
By any measure, this is hectoring, risky, and, in this case, not concerned with being good poetry. Reading this book may be a test of your masochism, but it just might change you. She’s aware of the risk. The book is peppered with such lines as: “Ailmenting the world perpetuates it,” and: “I will not train myself to love this shit.” With all the aggressiveness of Reines’s stance, it is unsettling to see the oddly beautiful spaces her work opens up on the killing floor. Look at the cover long enough and you may find an unsettling balance between beauty and horror, a sense that stays with you long after the book is closed.
The last quarter of the book does permit something approximating gentleness to appear. The poem “Rest” starts with “Hymns can make your forgetting happen.” and ends with “The mouth’s a haven for all an eye cannot disperse.” But in the context of such fraught, relentless hammering, such brief moments of beauty can risk seeming like desperately mimed cliches. Here’s a chunk of “You:”
'I looked up and was assuaged.
I carried to my mouth the ointment of the cloud that had ceased to move,
That had ceased to pass over me.
I found a secret duct amid these floes of air and then they left off their coquetries,
their complications.
The beauty makes me feel it really happened
The sky had stars in it they glittered like calories upon the world'

Whatever the state of poetry, words like "beautiful" and "lovely" should never be taboo, but it's harder to earn the right to use them: the cost of beauty is greater today. Using such a vague word as beauty requires a corresponding concreteness. Vagueness gains its relevance by the hardness of the frame. Reines pushes this logic to a place it hasn't been before, and doesn't want to go, a place past politics, but profoundly informed by it; a craft that appropriates and shreds other texts, but which sometimes hides the theft; a search for beauty under piles of carcasses both metaphorical and real. At one point she asks, “how badly does narrative long to be beautiful?” Does Reines succeed? Given that all meters are in the red, and that the answer has to wait until the end of the book, “Afterward” sounds understandably weary, but oddly, cautiously hedged. Hope is hard, too." - Mike McDonough

"I thought a really good insight into what we talk about when we talk about poetry was when Josh Corey, trying to understand why he liked Ariana Reines' "The Cow", called it "nakedly angry." In other words, he fell back on the old binary of the raw vs the cooked.
In her review of "The Cow" in Raintaxi, Lara Glenum gets closer when she says that the book is about the way culture teaches us how to desire. (As Zizek is always pointing out, there is nothing spontaneous about desire. He would have a field day with this book.) Though the thing about Lara's review that I would quibble over is the way she emphasizes "struggle" in the writing process. This can be misread as a return to the old raw-vs-cooked binary, to the expressionist subject.
Like I wrote to Ariana, mostly her book reminds me of various video art. I think in particular of one piece I once saw at the Walker: distanced camera-stare at a bunch of poor teenagers reenacting professional wrestling. It's boring and violent and quite brilliant.
Though perhaps Josh is right about the "naked" in another sense. The book also has something to do with the exquisitely unsexy boredom of pornography. How such films reveal the artificiality of nudity.
Perhaps it has something to do with Kiki Sera's work: http://www.smartvideoserver.org/qt_player.php?moId=1486&meId=875. (That's a piece called "Phantom Fuck").
Another example of people falling back into this binary are the blurbs to Anna Moschovakis' book "I Have Not Been Able to Get Through to Everyone." As I alluded to in the entry below, her style is the result of very conscious process of impoverishing - a very artificial act (like all art). Yet the blurbs say that the book is "stripped of artifice" (Ammiel Alcalay), that they display an "absence of artifice" (Lewis Warsh), and (Ann Lauterbach) that Plato "would have loved them" (I thought he only liked poetry that glorified war).
The critics/blurbers I've included in this post all like these pieces. But more frequently these binaries are used to dismiss work, or at least to compartmentalize." - Johannes Göransson

"Though she would have had no trouble finding a publisher (her first book of poetry, The Cow, was an award-winner published on a reputable press), twenty-seven-year-old Ariana Reines chose to release Coeur de Lion on the imprint she recently co-founded, mal-o-mar editions. "I didn't want to have to wait a long time for it to come out, I wanted to be able to move on," she says. Moreover, mal-o-mar (the name is a pun on the marshmallow treat and on Mallarme, the 19th century French poet whose spatially experimental work, Reines explains, is "full of white foam; the marshmallow is his food," and whose dandyism Reines finds politically subversive) gives her the freedom to follow her instincts in pursuing projects other than her own writing (a translation of Baudelaire is in the works).
Unlike many recent books of poetry, which seek to assimilate both pop and academic cultures, Coeur de Lion does so without any ironic posturing or condescension: the book's treatment of its subjects is sincere. Equal consideration is given to the likes of Mel Gibson and Georges Bataille, Nabokov and Stevie Wonder, Leonard Cohen, Madame Bovary, "that brat Arthur Rimbaud and Sade. Reines says she envisions Coeur de Lion as "the intersection of two extremes--an extreme of sincerity and an extreme of artifice." That intersection gives rise to the paradox of the book as an object, a "concerted effort," which takes as its subject something spontaneous, immediate and transient--namely, the experience of being in love:
"Fuck those assholes/ who think that there is nothing/ To know about love./ I'm nauseous/ Cos of the possibility of us attacking Iran/ And the hot rain falling right now./ Manhattan is full of white women with/ Businesslike bodies. It's all/ Handheld devices. If I can't make this feeling right now/ For you more personal/ The general consensus is going to/ Fucking kill me. Recall manual/ Figurations. Recall metaphors/ Of hands. Recall your hands./ My total impotence/ As an individual. My failure/ At freedom/ Of speech./ I'm already/ Forgetting your face/ So maybe I was playing/ Myself more than I thought/ About having more feelings than/ Most assholes." - Brian Kalkbrenner

"...Tina Brown's book is primarily concerned with evoking the pathos of choosing an identity, or in having one chosen for you. She squirms, she tapdances, she smiles coquettishly while throwing up in her mouth. Ariana Reines' The Cow is fiercer and wilder, embracing the persona of the eponymous ruminant, taking the consumption of (female) flesh literally. Brown flirts with obscenity, or more precisely our fascination with obscenity; Reines is viscerally, exuberantly obscene, yet somehow more in continuity with the hidden obscenity of the Real discovered by modernism and psychoanalysis—I think of Sianne Ngai's essay "Raw Matter: A Poetics of Disgust," but also of the primal scene of modernist poetry, The Waste Land, where the corpse planted in the speaker's garden turns out to be the mass grave of the (feminine?) nature that our civilization perches precariously upon: the cow with her vulnerable eyes and the cattle industry that produces and consumes her is the figure for this. The body is cracked open, violated, marked for death, taboo rather than sacred:
'E a r m a r k

She clasped the event to her and proceeded. Fucked her steaming eyehole and ended it. The cracked things was a doomed pidgin, it meant something.

Yesterday. A patience would be ideal. Make an art of it, sere notes winding their way through an air to have become the name of her going. Her name on the list, and some certain information they had.

After a time there is no more accuracy, after a time you can't get the note clean of what it might have been.

Under the skirt of Mother Ginger huddle little boys and girls. A holiday shit stain. His scholarliness justifies those flights

Of fancy you condemn in him. And the gummy hulls of words muzzle the chaw, a kind of cud that will not do. An umlaut could be a cousin's bone,

The poisoned nuance that started everything. It was from eating ourselves. It had to be

Someone else's sickness first, our silence, our good balance, our usefulness. There is something certain creatures long for. To be hacked up and macerated. That's having it come out and go into another body.

Eaten, gemmed with grease and herbs. Whose low language ruined our bowels. Whose lowing eventually meant nothing. We knew we were to become a ream of flesh. Another nothing.'
"Gemmed with grease!" I can't recall the last time I came across a text so scarifying, so disgust-ed/ing, that also seemed so verbally alive. Like Brown, Reines is also concerned with the position of poetry and herself as a speaker within poetry, though the sheer force of her negativity seems just possibly to contain its own seeds of regeneration. From the last page of "Transport," toward the end of the book:
'It's the same old story and you have to learn to speak the CLAMATO language of the elders or they will fuck you too.

You have to learn to speak the deciduous vocables of the true poets a beautiful whiteness.

The feet of white girls in flipflops. Fake hippie skirts from Forever 21. I hate the fop in me I want to eat a nipple of Venus because I am becoming a magnificent woman. Hurting culture want to bleed faggot

Leg wax high heel lipstick cuntface a marketing job designers wanting the best I want filthier but not to be homeless because I love myself too much bluebell cups in the rain a poetics of the music of the poolside therapy. Hate me. We are still thinking too much.
At this site, at this juncture, we are going to be we are becoming free.
Maybe Beckett is the more appropriate forebear to cite (the phrase "Go go" appears repeatedly, while its last words are "Go on. Go on"), and Stein if Stein were unable or unwilling to recuse herself as completely as she seems to from the matrix of heterosexual desire. Desire/disgust is the axis both of these books travel upon, Brown empahsizing the former and Reines emphasizing the latter. Above all I am impressed by their vulnerability, their angry nakedness. The only book by a young male poet that comes close to this level of lacerated sexed scrutiny that I can think of is Aaron Kunin's Folding Ruler Star—another Fence book. Say what you will about the magazine: as a press I think they're demonstrating some real vision over there, and an admirable willingness to tolerate discomfort. The pleasure of these books is in their sting." - Joshua Corey

"How could I resist a poetry collection called The Cow? Winner of the 2006 Alberta Prize (newly renamed the Motherwell Prize, annually offering a cash prize and the publication of a first or second book of poems by a woman), American poet and filmmaker Ariana Reines' first poetry collection works through the name of the livestock meant for food against a disparaging remark used against girls and women as her focal point, and working out from that into magnificent poems that challenge, push and even punch their way through the page. An exciting, vibrant, passionate and highly intelligent first poetry collection, first poetry collections rarely get as good as this; a clean sense of self, a clear sense of goals, and a smart, clear sense of how the poems fit together as a whole unit.
Does a resemblance really mean anything.
The world rhymes too much. Maybe.
A situation of the similar kept aloft by an air that is hating.
I spell it like that because I mean it.
Well, maybe a situation can find a way to be a family against your will.
Or maybe that's just psychoanalysis, I was going to write.
All this "meaning." It is rhyme. Is just rhyme.
And this, this could be it. Liberty.
I am harassed.
Tonight three guys in a car said we can help you with your hardon.
That was the most genderfuck catcall I ever pretended I wasn’t hearing as I walked by it.
I am so tired, deep deep inside. I am tired.
This ceaseless squabble. What Mandelstam said.
What. Now what. Go on. Go on.'
From the bodies of ruined animals to the bodies of ruined women, the poems in The Cow push hard against prevailing winds that somehow feel less strong after the push; this is a fiery and powerful "fuck you"; this is a book about hope. As she writes, "I have to get to the other side of the animal" (p 63). This is a book that makes its points by tearing you a new one (knowing that it's the only way you'll learn)." - Rob McLennan

Ariana Reines, Coeur de Lion, mal-o-mar, 2008.

"Summarizing Ariana Reines’s Coeur de Lion wouldn’t do this thoughtful book justice—it might sound too much like a soap opera for the hip intelligentsia. But the dramatic story—a woman, Ariana, addresses her ex after hacking into his Gmail account—isn’t what makes Coeur de Lion such a tour de force. Reines uses the love plot to investigate the nature of poetic address. She writes that she has been listening to Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Italian opera to help her “feel the popular emotions” of an “I” for an absent “you”; ultimately, Reines is less interested in her ex than in that most popular poetic form, the lyric. “I’m so fucking sick / Of you, but that’s the real / Me talking, and not the me / Of poetry. Where literature / Is concerned, ha ha, I’ve still / Got work to do.”
Reines’s “ha ha” is wry, self-deprecating, fun, and bitter—adjectives that apply to her project as a whole. She zooms through her ruminations in steeply enjambed blocks of sentences she doesn’t even stop to title, making the whole book a single, long poem one can race through in a sitting. This speed gives Coeur de Lion a kind of chatty urgency: there’s so much to say, and no time to waste. And Reines makes her poetic manipulation explicit: “I am writing this / In order to lose you / For my own purposes.” If Coeur de Lion is a confession, it’s not just about psychology, but about the violence lyric exerts when it reduces experience into the supposedly universalizing but ultimately “closed / System of another person’s mind.”
Coeur de Lion is the name of both a French camembert and a French king, Richard the Lion-Hearted, whose Crusades in the Holy Land led to the massacre of Jews. This conflation helps us see lyric poetry as both a process of commodification and a domineering conquest. Reines writes that “fermented things” like cheese are “More unsettlingly animal, somehow / than animal flesh.” She wants her poems—experience that has been aged and squeezed into shape—to be animal too, but this means confronting the stink of brutality, in both literature and life.
Ariana learns about Richard the Lion-Hearted on the internet—the same place she learns that, throughout their relationship together, her ex had been sending lusty emails another woman, Emma, complaining that he felt trapped by the “pretentious gypsy Jewish goth,” Ariana. Toward the end of Coeur de Lion, Ariana admits her revenge: “On August 27th I wrote to my / Friend Emma Wolf that I loved / Fucking you and that you might be / A bad writer, which made me / Nervous.” Until now, Ariana has had our sympathies, but this action seems unusually cruel. Reines is careful not to play the martyr: she wants us to know that cruelty is part of her work, as it is of lyric’s.
The identity Jake assigns Ariana, the “pretentious gypsy Jewess goth,” ends up helping Reines—whose book cover , it should be noted, is in a gothic font—to strike back. In Venice, Ariana says Gothic buildings look “like / Geometry and plants fucked each / Other and went insane, a simile that fits Coeur de Lion, too. Reines mates life with form, and their spawn feels alternately heavy and soaring, edgy, and thoroughly alive." - Megan Pugh
"The Cow, by Arian Reines has been a revelation. To refer to The Cow as poetry seems rather reductive - it feels more like a living creature. Using the cold, clinical language of the abatoir, mixed with a fragmented cut-up of various characters - Reines has sculpted a multi-faceted yet cohesive voice that forces the read into avenues of sex, scat and violence. Words don't do this thing justice. Read it for yourself. I wanted to know more.
OK so I guess I just want to start by finding out what you've been up to most recently. I know you did a reading in New York a few nights ago – could you tell me a little more about it? How did it go? What did you read? I've only ever been to a few readings. How do you go about choosing what to read? Is it like acting? Do you have to assume a character for your performance?
- so this soft targets gig was this past wednesday. soft targets is a great literary/arts magazine. one of their editors contacted me with a solicitation shortly after the cow was published. because for the past year or so i have lived in a hole and have had a bizarre reluctance to assimilate too much new art for fear it would make me forget my life, which is not to say myself, but seriously, in order to write the cow i had to refuse or renounce relenquishing an acute & exhausting despair so that i could ramp it up high enough for the whole thing to work. i'll explain more later, but yeah, soft targets literally fell into my lap and i was amazed, and it was cool that they invited me for this. gary lutz is a writer of uncompromising fiction that quickens the beating of my heart when i read it; he's also known to be a retiring fellow, so it was an honor to meet him. here i go, i want to tell you all about kalup linzy's gorgeous performance and the fucking brain-rinsing music of mick barr, but you've asked me about me.
so the morning of the soft targets thing i wrote a story instead of packing up my shit to move out of where i was living. while i was writing the story something jizzed or ectoplasmed on me and i don't know who or what. i mentioned this on the dc blog. and i posted a picture of the event on my blog (www.ariana-reines.blogspot.com) i wrote the story partly cos i was in despair about sectioning off and packing up my personal effects (i have no talent for this kind of organization) and also i was in despair about my mom; where would she go; what would she do. as you might know, she was in jail in february/march, and had been living at my house ever since; it was the third time she'd had no place else to go but my place; i'd been suffering a lot over it.... etc etc. so i wrote this story about fucking, computer programmers, a narrator who has a sister who lives in cleveland, people who like to fuck a certain race of person. i needed something that would have the jarring tenderness i prize in all writing but also something that would be cooler and seem glib without actually being glib in order to reach the new york people. the cow's a book that's designed to feel like an emergency, to exceed itself, to embarass, harass, and refuse to be itself. that can only really work in private; when i read from it the work becomes persona, and that isn't the point.
so yeah, doing a reading's like acting, for me. the one i did 2 weeks ago at the bowery poetry club, (you can hear some of it if you go to http://writing.upenn.edu/ pennsound/x/Segue-BPC.html and scroll down) i wore butoh whiteface for. i don't do a ton of readings, mostly cos i've been too preoccupied with my family to book them. i used to organize readings for an art gallery in new york and a small literary magazine in paris; generally, readings suck.
one thing that might be interesting is that the first money i ever got for writing as $75 for winning a women's poetry slam when i was sixteen. the poem i performed, slam-style, was about getting fucked over and abused by a psychotic butch girl i was in love with at the time. after winning the money i became disgusted with poetry slams as an institution; felt they were impure; that it was all about my youth and cuteness and not about "poetry." i don't have such an ungenerous attitude about that now, but that's how i used to feel about performance & writing, that they were seperate universes that shouldn't corrupt each other, which is a bizarre and backward way to feel, but which is probably somewhere underneath the "acting" approach in any case.
Can I get a little of your history? How long have you been writing?
I was born in Salem, Massachusetts.
Both of my mother's parents, Polish, survived the Holocaust.
I am interested in how suffering's housed and passed down through crotches.
Anyway, I've written all my life, and in school it was easy to get recognition for it, as i could handle writing in different ways; was a voluble, extroverted personality. Then a lot of bad stuff happened and I changed, became kind of slanted, miserable, and private. Writing didn't become a vocation until, broke and jettisoning things I loved, it became the cheapest art to do, the one that required the least in terms of material organization. Or seemed to require the least at first.
I had a gorgeous childhood until I was about seven. After that time everything got disgusting.
I want to say something about bad writing. I'm proud of my bad writing. Everyone is so intelligent lately, and stylish. Fucking great. I am proud of Philip Guston's bad painting, I am proud of Baudelaire's mamma's boy goo goo misery. Sometimes the lurid or shitty means having a heart, which's something you have to try to have. Excellence nowadays is too general and available to be worth prizing: I am interested in people who have to find strange and horrible ways to just get from point a to point b.
What other writers have influenced your work, or inspired you to write?
I think everything I've ever read, including stuff I haven't loved, is influential to an almost terrifying degree. But to keep things down to the essentials, at least what I can discern today: Michel de Montaigne, Chris Kraus, Avital Ronell, Charlotte & Emily Bronte, Charles Baudelaire, Francois Villon.
I wouldn't let myself read Dennis Cooper's novels til I finished THE COW because I knew the influence would be incredibly strong and even debilitating. All this other stuff had already been in there for a while before I started writing the book in about 2003.
So let's talk about The Cow. Where did the whole concept come from? How long did it take you to write? How do you feel about the finished results? Are you happy with The Cow? Did it turn out how you hoped?
- My intention for THE COW was to make an organ. Not an item, or edifice. Every book is a mesh, a language mesh, to use Paul Celan's phrase, through which you pass as you read it. But Mallarme was wrong about the point of everything being to end up in a book. Nothing "ends" or "ends up" in a book; a book's the opposite of final, if it's ever open. A closed book's another story. Language is a mode of transport because sentences and lines are not heiroglyphs, they have direction. I wanted to work with this, so the poetics of THE COW includes a lot of sentences and is pretty oldfashioned in that respect. I don't have anything to prove about the solidity of the word, the immensity of the void upon which it founders, etc. Metaphor means to carry across and language is inherently metaphorical, right. Well, CATTLE CAR is the vehicle that transports meaning through THE COW. I wanted to impose BACKWARDS on language's, or English's, innate urge forward into the future, to shove the brains into the guts, To shove the material fact of bodies into the nothingness they often seem to be disgorging.
Which means to shove the present into the past.
I have always been interested in the figure of the SEIVE and of the BLOTTER as ways to understand literature. SEIVE: I pass myself through the mesh of words; BLOTTER; I sop up the excesses I can't stand to just leave alone by reading.
The concept for THE COW came from my mom's obsession with Creuzfeldt-Jakob. Her madness is really singular and I have only been able to trace out a tiny corner of what it means or is. Not to mention everything I have in common with her. The book's for her and of her. A person reading it could find: a preoccupation with digestion (have you read Proust's correspondence with his mom?), the question of metaphor (well actually the question doesn't exist anymore, cos metaphor doesn't exist anymore), cattle cars, the lie of comforting Holocaust literature, schizophrenia, sexual mania, what constitutes a witness, the fundamental horror and disgustingness of birth, mothers, the ruined condition of thought or rumination, the destruction of all interiors, terror, the unspoken but overt links between excressence, the "unnatural", writing, and evil, French modernism, the nastiness of surviving, the violence of all transportation, how love makes people disgusting, nausea, revulsion, not dying of a long affliction.
And I was interested in the cow as both a witness or figure of oblivion in lots of classics: Joyce, Nietzsche.
Basically, in order to expose how meaning's both excessive and nonexistent I had to work with a cliche, to open it. Something so visible it's invisible, so ingrained in the culture it's an impossibly huge aporia.
It was important to me to not write in a single form. Overt formality creates a patina or lacquer; I wanted to consistently break or break up the surface of the text, to make absolutely sure it keeps on haranguing itself.
I suppose due to the nature of the text, everyone you talk to is going to have a different opinion, perhaps. After the first time I read it, I started thinking about Georges Bataille and his idea of Acéphale – the idea of removing the head, or at least the notion of getting the rid of the distinction between the brain and the body. I guess when I read The Cow I got the idea that you were trying to show that the brain was as much a part of the body as anything else, no more and no less important that any other organ. Could you discuss this? Was this part of your thinking? Has Bataille been any kind of influence?
- The Acephale has been very important to me, yes. Thanks for your insightful question. In fact, I was desperate for the book's cover image to be one I had found on one of PETA's many anti-meat websites-- a decapitated cow upended in a garbage can, with the ruddy arm of a male worker pushing a mop in the background. I've attached the image to this email. Aside from this urgency about reading what happens when the innards of a body are literally splattered with its shit, when the body of the animal has no integrity or person/animalhood, but is rather a unit of production, a mobile site out of which various resources are amped up, extracted.
This of course refers us back to the bodies of death camp victims, which were called "pieces" or "schmattes", "rags", in the camps, and which were put to various practical uses-- hair shorn and woven into rugs, dental gold melted down and rendered into jewels, bone phosphate powder fed to pigs and used as fertilizer.
Despite the fact that our brains are open troughs full of advertising, bullshit, and other garbage, every body's organized to transmit, transmute, bathe in what's a fundamental radiance, life itself. Celan wrote, "The world is gone / I must carry you." When I was writing THE COW I felt the world was gone, and could no longer carry any body. So a body had to carry itself. What would that look like? What would that sound like? Autism? Schizophrenia? Something crying out (and of course when I say "cry out" I am referring to Rilke's First Duino Elegy) inside itself is the opposite of lyric, right, some kind of guttural implosion.
Are there any other writers that have made work focussed around body that you admire?
Well, can I name some people who aren't strictly writers? Marina Abramovic has had an enormous influence on me. Richard Foreman, Diamanda Galas, Gaspar Noe. Alain Resnais.
You've used pieces from Gertrude Stein, William Burroughs, among others, in The Cow. How did you set about doing this? Did you use the cut-up method and act primarily on chance? Or were you very precise in what samples you used?
- Desperatly and maniacally precise. I didn't cut up, except that my brains're already cut up, like most people's. Many of the allusions came out easy from memory, others i circled in books and recopied. The Old Testament stuff tends to be the hardest for people to place, incidentally. I guess people don't read that edition of the Bible much, but I adore its heavy beauty. The stuff from the WR2 website is there for its ugliness. On the other hand some of the Merck Veterinary Manual citations are just beautifully written.
Anything, if it is too allover, recedes into the regularity of its own style. There is nothing so riotous or insane that it doesn't become a kind of wash at a certain level of accumulation. Likewise there is nothing so "direct" or "spare" that doesn't recede into the uniformity of its style after a while. You can get pleasure out of something that stays within its own domain, you can call it good. One of The Cow's most pressing concerns was NOT to have a single style, not to settle upon a correct way of speaking itself, to renounce the possibility of its own completeness, to renounce correctness too.
What have you been working on most recently? A new book? Can you also tell me about the film you're working on? Are you writing a screenplay, or actually making the film yourself?
- Right now I'm working on a book called THANK YOU that's very easy desperate little poems. I have completed a second, more serviceable draft of an essay/novel whose working title was The Hand of Thomas but that I'm now calling THE NEGATIVE; it's basically about Blanchot, Doubting Thomas, Gnosticism, and what I can only call The Visible.
The film's already shot: it's about the disintegration of my grandmother's body; I was thinking of the Maysles brothers, Rodin, and Velazquez when I filmed her; I waned to get very close to what scared the living shit out of me. Editing the film has been slow, but it's a fascinating process for me, and hard, cos so much of the footage is excruciating. I was compelled to do the film because my grandmother's "testimony" had been unsatisfactorily filmed by Steven Spielberg's SHOAH foundation. The visionary filmmaker Ken Jacobs very generously leant me a wonderful handheld mini dv to shoot with, and his daughter, Nisi Jacobs, was a great friend and encourager to me at the beginning of the project. I hope to have it completed by the fall of 2007." - Interview with Thomas Moore