Dirty: Dirty: An illustrated anthology of 'dirty' writing

Dirty : Dirty

Dirty: Dirty: An illustrated anthology of 'dirty' writing. Authored by Debra Di Blasi. Illustrated by Mugi Takei, Jaded Ibis Press, 2013.          

"It's pleasant being naked, as swimmer or writer or reader.... Naked's a way of being free, unencumbered by garment or censor. There exists no other way of knowing certain things, or oneself, without stripping away." - from the Preface by Debra Di Blasi, editor

One artist and 54 writers accepted the challenge of creatively defining "dirty" in the 21st Century. Mugi Takei's delicate, profane watercolors position the human body within, on and against nature. While some writers surrendered to play through sexually explicit love poetry, bawdy fiction, threesomes, twosomes, onesomes, and all the delightful fantasies and realities in-between, others suggested genocide to be the real dirt of humanity, or offer sexy, new versions of biblical stories. As an anthology, Dirty : Dirty exhibits the beauty, humor, raunch and invention possible when talented artists and writers tackle a very old subject.

THE ARTIST: Mugi Takei
THE WRITERS: Greg Bachar, Elizabeth Burns, Jennifer Calkins, Jane L. Carman, Kylee Cook, Beth Couture, Dirk Cowan, Justin Dobbs, Trevor Dodge, Rion Woolf, C. M. Connelly, April Gigliotti, Christopher Grimes, Steve Halle, Jeff Hansen, Michael Harold, Garrett Hayes, Jacqueline Heffron, Lily Hoang, Nabila Najwa, Eric Jeitner, Liesl Jobson, Steve Katz, Kimberly Koga, Stacey Levine, Marilyn Jaye Lewis, Robert Lopez, Cris Mazza, Joe Milazzo, Kathleen Miller, Scott Million, Theresa A. O'Donnell, Jordan Okumura, Melanie Page, Mitch Parker, Aimee Parkinson, Jack Rees, AE Reiff, Doug Rice, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Davis Schneiderman, Mikal Shapiro, Gary Shipley, Ascot Smith, Rob Stephenson, Helen Tran, Holms Troelstrup, J. A. Tyler, c.vance, Laura Vena, Hal Wert, Lane Williams, Alyssa Wisener, Lidia Yuknavitch

Writing sex is notoriously difficult and there is ample evidence, in critical discourse, of how writers fail to rise to meet the sexual occasion. In her 2009 essay "The Naked and the Conflicted," for the New York Times, critic Katie Roiphe lamented how contemporary writers, and men in particular, approach sex in their fiction. She states, "The younger writers are so self-conscious, so steeped in a certain kind of liberal education, that their characters can't condone even their own sexual impulses; they are, in short, too cool for sex." She prefers the brawnier and more explicit work of writers like Mailer, Bellow, and Updike, writers who "were interested in showing not just the triumphs of sexual conquest, but also its loneliness, its failures of connection."
Roiphe is certainly not alone in criticizing sex in contemporary literary fiction. Time and again, critics decry how literary fiction approaches sex. Only a few writers, such as James Salter or, perhaps, Mary Gaitskill are free from this critical glare. The problem of sex in fiction is so notorious that The Guardian offers, annually, The Bad Sex Award for Fiction. The gesture is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but each year, you can peruse the "bad" excerpts and see that a great deal of literary sex is bad, indeed.
There are any number of reasons why writers struggle to write sex. For one, it is awkward. It's hard to know how to bring two (or more) characters into a situation where they will bare themselves intimately. Many writers try to bring the emotional and physical experience of sex to the page and many writers fail. It is often said that if you know how to have sex you know how to write about sex but such is not the case. Doing and writing, no matter the subject, are vastly different things.
There is also the matter of language. What words should writers use? In romance novels, which generally offer lavish sexual scenery, there are all kinds of swooning and euphemistic approaches to writing about sex. The scenes are explicit without being explicit. The scenes use language that doesn't exist in any reality so it's hard to feel a genuine connection to the sex being portrayed. This matter of language is a complicated one though because to use the clinical, more accurate terms is not especially sexy. The biological words for genitalia have an uncanny ability to disrupt any narrative just as much as the phrase "turgidrod"or "throbbing manhood."
In truth, sex is absurd as a physical act, so good writing about sex should find a way to convey that absurdity along with the intensity, the humor, the beauty and the ugliness of sex.
The new anthology Dirty: Dirty (2013), featuring art by Mugi Takei and "dirty writing" from fifty-four contributors, is a recent entry in the canon of sexual writing. The title is a curious one because it creates a set of expectations that aren't really met and therein likes what may be this anthology's biggest problem.
What works is the myriad of ways writers have interpreted the sexual. There is nothing literal or clichéd here. There is no rote prose and poetry about romantic interludes or sexual awakenings. Instead, the prose and poetry in Dirty : Dirty are short and sharp and offer a post-modern take on the ways we are intimate, what it means to be intimate. Much of the work features an explicit and anatomical focus on the body, stretched and splayed for sexual delectation or exploitation. Gary J. Shipley's "Scopophilia"—which means the pleasure derived from looking—pulls the reader into a bizarre scene: 'Through an open door I watch a party of fleshy metronomes. The puzzled detail of their faces belies the smooth, patterned order of their encounter. A vagina breaks free of its repeated union, pulsating grotesquely like a garroted throat." The imagery and the language are lovely, creating a scene that is magnetic and repulsive, like much of the work in the anthology. - Roxane Gay


Carl Abrahamsson - Although described as an “occult sex thriller”, its acid-soaked story is a perfect example of fictional psychedelic literature

Carl Abrahamsson, Mother, Have a Safe Trip,


An occult sex thriller set in an international environment. Unearthed plans and designs stemming from radical inventor Nikola Tesla could solve the world's energy problems. These plans suddenly generate a vortex of interest from various powers. Thrown into this maelstrom of international intrigue is Victor Ritterstadt, a soul searching magician with a mysterious and troubled past. From Berlin, over Macedonia and all the way to Nepal, Ritterstadt sets out on an inner quest. Espionage, love, UFOs, magick, telepathy, conspiracies, LSD and more in this shocking story of a world about to be changed forever.
"We haven't really met, ever. Yet you are my mother. As far as I understand, we're both victims of an American psychedelic rock group, America's then in many ways most wanted renegade chemist, a brainwashing Hindu love cult or, who knows, maybe we are living gods? Can you understand why I'm slightly hesitant about going back to Nepal?"

Published in the autumn of 2013, ‘Mother, Have a Safe Trip’ is a novel written by Stockholm based writer, photographer and musician Carl Abrahamsson. Although described as an “occult sex thriller”, its acid-soaked story is a perfect example of fictional psychedelic literature. At less than 200 pages, Abrahamsson’s book – his fiction début – is written in a straightforward and accessible prose, packed with references to key figures and events in psychedelic culture, beat literature and the occult.
For those not familiar with the Swedish author, Abrahamsson runs Edda Publishing together with visual artist Fredrik Söderberg. Apart from Mother, Have a Safe Trip, the Edda catalogue includes titles by Aleister Crowley and the anthology series The Fenris Wolf. The latter brings together a plethora of underground writers and themes. For instance, the latest issue deals with German writer and psychonaut Ernst Jünger’s “psychedelic approaches”. Furthermore, Abrahamsson has collaborated with musician and artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, and at the end of the eighties the Swede paid a visit to Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey in San Francisco, subsequently making a Swedish translation of LaVey’s The Satanic Bible.
As usual when it comes to titles published by Edda, Mother, Have a Safe Trip is a beautifully designed book in hardcover format with a ribbon bookmark. Captivating from the start, the novel begins with 60-year-old Mary Ritterstadt going through an old journal of notes from her time spent in Nepal in 1970. While in the country she gets to know the members of a band called the Fateful Head and samples the product of the “infamous LSD-wizard” Mosely-Manly: “We learned he was wanted by the FBI back home. We soon realized why. He wasn’t only wanted by the ‘feds’ but also by the ‘heads’: millions of kids worldwide” (Abrahamsson 8).
During Mary’s stay in Nepal she unintentionally gets pregnant. Her pregnancy is mysteriously revealed to her by an old Baba, who she follows to a yoga commune called PSYNC, short for “the Patanjali Society for Yoga and Neophile Culture”, in the Nepalese mountains. There, Mary gives birth to a son named Victor, the protagonist of the story, who is revered as a holy figure by the members of the commune. Not ready for parenthood and not knowing who is the father Mary decides to leave Victor at the commune and return to America, severing the ties with her son. It’s only after her parents are dead that she decides to get in touch with Victor, now 40 years old.
After getting in touch through telepathy, Mary and Victor decide to meet in real life. What follows is a fast-paced, heady mix including (in no particular order) secret agents, a UFO sighting, a telepathic dog, a Dionysian LSD-fuelled party, and the discovery of a document originating from Serbian inventor Nicola Tesla that may solve the world’s energy problems.
Just like Abrahamsson, Victor Ritterstadt is a writer, photographer and musician and judging by his visual appearance the protagonist even looks like the Swedish author. Still, it’s unclear to what extent Victor is based on Abrahamsson. Although leading a seemingly interesting life, the protagonist turns out to be a rather self-centred character whose goal is to make lots of money. His materialistic side is noticed by his mother, who realises that Victor is “very much also a narcissistic egotist” (Abrahamsson 119). Interestingly, at the same time he is uniformly celebrated at the yoga commune, where no one seems to question his actions and persona.
The self-centred protagonist aside, Mother, Have a Safe Trip wins me over in its humorous, playful and witty writing style. Many of its characters evoke thinly disguised real life figures. Mosely-Manly is obviously modelled after the legendary LSD chemist Owsley Stanley, and the Fateful Head is based on – you guessed it – the Grateful Dead. Moreover, the name of the yoga commune includes the word “neophile” which is associated with Robert Anton Wilson. In addition, the number 23 appears in the novel. Both Wilson and William S. Burroughs, two likely literary sources of inspiration for the Swedish author, were interested in the number. Needless to say the reader will find many more similar references.
Even if Abrahamsson is less associated with Satanism than he was in the past, the satanic influence is nevertheless present in his novel and, to a greater extent, in his anthology. To my knowledge, few, if any, writers have put Satanism and psychedelics in the same saucepan. Admittedly, combining the two may seem like an unusual move. The appearance of LaVey’s ego-gratifying philosophy at the height of the “we decade” in late sixties San Francisco was the antithesis of many of the ideas expressed in the hippie movement. The Church of Satan founder was also strongly opposed to the use of LSD. In a 1966 article published in Alameda County Weekender LaVey said the drug “ought to be shunned like the plague” (Churchofsatan.com).
Abrahamsson’s interest in Satanism serves as a reminder that psychedelics can be placed in many different contexts. The current focus on ayahuasca may have us believe that mind-expanding drugs are primarily to be looked upon as shamanic tools for healing and spiritual development, yet history repeatedly shows us that these drugs are used for a variety of reasons.
Before reading a poem called Lucifer’s Rainbow Victor says, “I think we should pay our respects to everyone from everywhere who’s fought for freedom in life and in mind” (Abrahamsson 138). Although these are words from a fictional character, they illustrate that Abrahamsson clearly belongs to a tradition of western anti-authoritarian authors leaning towards libertarian or anarchist ideas. Whatever one may feel about the overriding sentiments of Abrahamson’s writings, Mother, Have a Safe Trip is a highly entertaining and thought-provoking novel. Chock-full of psychedelia, the book is also a much welcome addition to the far too few fictional works published dealing with psychedelic culture. -

Henri Atlan's radical, uncompromising Spinozism allows him to propose a complete revision of cognitive science and philosophy of mind, while showing that their current impasses stem from remnants of traditional dualism

cover for The Sparks of Randomness, Volume 1

Henri Atlan, The Sparks of Randomness, Volume 1: Spermatic Knowledge. Trans. by Lenn J. Schramm, Stanford UP, 2010.


The Sparks of Randomness, Henri Atlan's magnum opus, develops his whole philosophy with a highly impressive display of knowledge, wisdom, depth, rigor, and intellectual and moral vigor. Atlan founds an ethics adapted to the new power over life that modern scientific knowledge has given us. He holds that the results of science cannot ground any ethical or political truth whatsoever, while human creative activity and the conquest of knowledge are a double-edged sword. This first volume, Spermatic Knowledge, begins with the Talmudic tale about the prophet Jeremiah's creation of a golem, or artificial man. Atlan shows that the Jewish tradition does not demonize man for creating and changing living things—a charge often leveled at promoters of advanced technologies, like biologists, who are accused of "playing God." To the contrary, man is depicted as being the co-creator of the world.
Although Atlan believes that the fabrication of life "from scratch" will take place in the near future, he posits that this achievement will not really amount to creating life current biology and biotechnologies have demonstrated that there is no absolute distinction between life and non-life, no critical threshold whose crossing would be taboo. He also debunks and demystifies our belief in free will and our conviction, of theological origin, that there would be no possibility for ethics if free will were shown to be an illusion. Throughout, he combines science, religion, and ancient and modern philosophy in unexpected and inspired ways. His radical, uncompromising Spinozism allows him to propose a complete revision of cognitive science and philosophy of mind, while showing that their current impasses stem from remnants of traditional dualism. From his brilliant reflections on time, he also derives exciting considerations for medicine and epidemiology.

"Atlan seeks to integrate the mechanistic worldview common in the biological sciences into a form of absolute monism that draws upon Kabbalah and Spinoza. . . Steeped in the biological sciences and remarkably learned in Judaica, it will set a standard for new creative forms of constructive Jewish thought. Anyone interested in the relation between religion and science will do well to turn here."—Zachary Braiterman, Religious Studies Review

"Henri Atlan has undoubtedly become a great scholar and important international figure in the academic community. His approach to texts is original and stimulating, his ideas both lucid and insightful. He has written many volumes on a variety of subjects, but this one has special meaning due to the convulsions society has been undergoing in recent years. The book is steeped in psychology and religion, biology and sociology, mysticism and ethos. Drawing from Talmudic sources but also from secular ones, it is sure to find appeal in many circles."—Elie Wiesel

"As a physician, biologist, and philosopher, Henri Atlan occupies a preeminent place in the present-day French intellectual landscape, carrying on a grand French tradition of scientist-philosophers that goes back to Pascal. His Sparks of Randomness is dedicated to reflecting upon the lesson that Jeremiah learned from the golem: that we should not renounce attaining the perfect knowledge that makes us capable of creating life, but once we attain the knowledge, we should abstain from acting on it. This book is not only fundamental for the future of biology, cognitive science, and the human sciences in general, but also constitutes one of the most important readings of Spinoza ever produced."—Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Stanford University

Just finished reading Henri Atlan’s The Sparks of Randomness, vol1, Spermatic Knowledge.  Among the author’s many titles and honors, an incomplete list of Atlan’s vita include the French Legion of Honor, the French Order of Arts and Letters, Professor Emeritus of Biophysics and Direction of the Human Biology Research Center at Haddasa University Hospital in Jerusalem.
Atlan seeks to integrate the mechanistic world-view common in the biological sciences into a form of absolute monism that draws upon Kabbalah and Spinoza. The common coin between these two discrete forms of discourse is the encounter with the the molecular, the cellular, the non-human  –what Atlan calls the “alterity of the amoral and impersonal” (p.121). At the same time, he seeks to preserve random sparks of chance and choice that open up the range of human life against the type of determinism and control that characterizes so much work in the natural sciences.
The use of Jewish source material makes for a very wild ride. About this, I am either mildly ambivalent or just a little bit blasé. On the one hand, the citation work seems overstuffed. Atlan’s selection of background information and primary texts is anything but judicious. Packing in so much information and detail in long inserts along the margins of the page gets annoying. Also, it’s a little too cute, this trying to make the text mimic Talmud. The more serious problem is the conflation of vastly different texts in order to reconstruct some singular Jewish hermetic tradition. But okay, let’s take it from there. Atlan spins an excellent yarn. The text abounds with Edenic figures, demons and angels, and the play of the big Ein Sof with itself.
Atlan’s exploration of this biological-mystical interface offers a strong formulation of the new immanence, the new monism, in contemporary Jewish philosophy and theology. Steeped in the biological sciences and remarkably learned in Judaica, it’s worth the ticket.
Philosophically, I’m still not persuaded by one thing. Common to both the sciences and materialist forms of critical theory (is there any other kind?) is the complete aversion to anything that might subsist “outside” the material frame. While I appreciate the rigor that would close off any thought regarding an outside, I’m always caught up short. Too predisposed to superstition, I can’t help but think that this type of negation shuts down the work of the imagination and the work of thought before it can even begin to start. The dogmatic claim that “there is nothing outside” I find chilly and suffocating. While this is not exactly Atlan’s own position, it lends itself to this kind of a conclusion, which we hear in more definitive form from others.  For my part, I can’t help but think there’s always an outside to everything.
Atlan claims the rabbis as his own when he cites the famous passage from m.Hagigah warning against those who speculate on what is above, below, before, and after. I think it might be a false claim. In contrast to Atlan or Spinoza’s monism, the rabbis don’t deny the existence of the above-below-before-after. They just don’t think it’s worth talking about. On this, I’ll stay with the Babylonian rabbis against both the materialists and the mystics. Subtle bastards, the rabbis in the Bavli hit the mark, as they so often do, right down the middle. That’s why I always love them, even when I don’t.
Don’t get me wrong. Read Atlan alongside Mordecai Kaplan, Elliot Wolfson, and Arthur Green and so many others. More to the point, Atlan’s model of the relation between science and religion, between the non-human and human , makes for a uniquely open interchange. By the end of the book, it’s pretty clear where he stands, against biological determinism. Basing himself on Hume and Wittegenstein, Atlan’s critique of “causality” in the sciences I found very telling. In his view, genes don’t “do” anything. At the very end of the book, Atlan reveals his hand with the closing citation of Stéphane Mallarmé, “A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance” (with the original typographical layout).
My attention was drawn to the conclusion of Mallarmé’s poem. Maybe it is the intention intended by the poet in the large caps scattered in the following order throughout the closing “stanza” of the original. This is the possibility that “NOTHING…WILL HAVE TAKEN PLACE…BUT THE PLACE…EXCEPT…PERHAPS…A CONSTELLATION.”
I like the Mallarmé, both “the poem itself” and its haphazard layout across the page. The recourse to chance reminds me also of John Cage, Cage’s interest in the I-Ching, and the role of random sounds in contemporary music. That makes Atlan’s Franco-Israeli-Jewish project also Franco-American.
When Atlan lays it all on too thick, and he does, when he threatens to take you down one more rabbit hole via yet another long winded digression, then start flipping pages. Don’t skim too fast, though, because you might miss something really important. - Zachary Braiterman

cover for The Sparks of Randomness, Volume 2

Henri Atlan, The Sparks of Randomness, Volume 2: The Atheism of Scripture. Trans. by Lenn J. Schramm, Stanford UP, 2013.


In this second volume of The Sparks of Randomness, Henri Atlan pursues his investigation of human life, which he grounds in a distinctive intermingling of the biological and cognitive sciences and traditions of Jewish thought. The Atheism of Scripture offers up a paradox: its audacious thesis is that the Word or revealed scripture can be better understood without God. It must be decrypted or analyzed atheistically, that is, not as divine revelation, but in and of itself. The first part of the book addresses contemporary science. It puts the evolution of ideas about life and knowledge as conceived by today's biological and cognitive sciences into perspective and shows how the genealogy of ethics must be approached in a new way. The second part takes up this challenge by putting classical philosophy in dialogue with the Talmud and the Kabbalah to advance a non-dualistic anthropology of the body and the mind.

cover for Fraud

Henri Atlan, Fraud: The World of Ona'ah. Trans. by Nils F. Schott, Stanford UP, 2013.


We can calculate financial fraud, but how do we measure bad faith? How can we evaluate the words of the pharmaceutical industry or of eco-scientific ideologies, or the subtle deception found in political scheming? Henri Atlan sheds light on these questions through the concept of ona'ah, which in Hebrew refers to both fraud in financial transactions and the verbal injury inflicted by speech. The world of ona'ah is a world of an "in-between," where the impossible purity of absolute Platonic truth gives way to a more relative notion—the near-theft, the quasi-lie. Today it seems that no discourse is safe from fraudulent excesses, be they intentional or no. As both philosopher and biologist, Atlan works on several registers. He forges links between the Talmud, the Kabbalah, and the big questions of our time, multiplying the bridges between science, philosophy, and current ethical dilemmas. In a context of financial and moral crises that appear to be weakening our democracies, Henri Atlan's work allows us to rethink the status of fraud in the contemporary world.

"Atlan reveals himself to be a rara avis, a French intellectual developing his theory within the context of Jewish traditional concepts. His book takes readers through a fascinating journey across the history of philosophy and religion, from the Pre-Socratics and the Orphics, through Spinoza, to contemporary issues of science ethics and political ethics in the postmodern world."—Guy Stroumsa

Henri Atlan: Selected Writings (Forms of Living) (Hardcover) ~ S... Cover Art

Henri Atlan, Selected Writings: On Self-organization, Philosophy, Bioethics, and Judaism, Stefanos Geroulanos and Todd Meyers (eds.), Fordham University Press, 2011.

English-speakers are being treated to a burst of translations of the works of Henri Atlan. Complementing this anthology of his writings, The Sparks of Randomness (Stanford 2011) has also recently appeared, and each work exudes the product of an extraordinarily eclectic mind grounded in the sciences, but whose scope extends well beyond to ethics and metaphysics. Atlan, a distinguished French and Israeli academician, is not easily characterized. Indeed, given the span of his expertise -- biomedicine, theoretical biology, bioethics, Spinoza, Jewish mysticism -- he holds a unique place in the firmament of contemporary philosophy. The very subtitle of this book of selected writings suggests a kaleidoscope of subjects that possesses no obvious unifying theme or trajectory of thought. One might pick up this book and think, correctly, that the author is a French physician-scientist, whose interest in Spinoza and Jewish thought has produced a strange omelet of topics. However, a hasty dismissal would deprive one of a fascinating tour of ideas leading to a mature philosophy. So while many might put the book down as either too scrambled or the subjects too technical, in fact, Atlan, throughout these essays, writes clearly and develops complicated concepts with a sympathetic eye to the non-specialist. The translations are excellent and the editors have provided a useful introductory overview. Once the mix of ideas is seen as a whole, the reader will perceive a philosophical medley worthy of serious consideration.
The anthology begins with Atlan's key essays on self-organization, which were early contributions to what would eventually become systems biology. These essays, which range over discussions of random Boolean networks, to mathematical treatment of redundancy, to historically-informed philosophical reviews of earlier theories, testify to the breadth of Atlan's scientific and philosophical sophistication. But beyond intellectual virtuosity, from this conceptual foundation Atlan's understanding of self-organization as a primary organizational principle reaches deeply not only into theoretical biology, but extends to all those human sciences that base themselves on formulations of human nature. In this regard, Atlan is one of the few philosophers today who is capable of basing a broad system of thought in a comprehensive understanding of the natural sciences, which is fully developed in a distinctive philosophy of biology.
Resisting the growing tides of reductionism that were ushered in with the rise of molecular biology in the 1980s and 1990s, Atlan championed a rival epigenetics (post-genetic processes) as critical to understanding the dynamics of development, physiology, and evolution. Mechanistic explanatory models of the dynamic, emergent properties characteristic of bio-systems demand a holistic approach, albeit coupled to elemental analysis (reductionism). To effectively capture those dynamics a physicist's appreciation of complexity theory is required, which Atlan coupled to a general intuition that macro- and microbiological processes require dynamic explanations of the plasticity, emergent phenomena, and non-linear, complex causation pathways characteristic of organic phenomena. The ready parallels drawn between the genetic code and the cybernetic analogy with computer programs, where the merger of 'information' and 'program' worked to again introduce the "argument by design" or the inscription of a homunculus into the gene, would not seduce him. As he observed, the function and goals of computers are externally prescribed, whereas organisms generate their own behavior, what he calls, the "self-creation of meaning."
So, instead of models built from classical simple mechanical or cybernetic systems, Atlan sees dynamic complexity at the heart of biological processes, and in his work on information theory, where others saw "noise" and error, he perceived the necessary resources for an organized physical system to develop increased complexity and thereby enhance opportunities for adaptive responses. So, 'noise' in one context becomes 'information' in another to provide new perceptions for organisms to use as they adapt to their environment. And from elements in associative exchange, self-organizational principles take hold to 'structure' the complexity.
This theory alone has had wide influence within philosophy of biology, but Atlan has extended the general tenor of his orientation to a wider array of biomedical issues. Primary among these are his cogent insights about our deep-set attitudes concerning life and its creation when confronted by the ethical challenges of various biotechnologies in reproductive medicine. Much of the recent French public interest in Atlan's writings may be attributed to his discussion of these issues, but here I am less interested in this aspect of his opus than with his larger philosophical ambitions, which this collection has been designed to capture.
To appreciate Atlan's work, one must recognize that his project seeks to draw the full philosophical significance of his ideas about self-organization in the particular context of the relationship between the mind and brain states, and from there he draws wide-ranging conclusions about personal identity and moral agency. For Atlan, mind and brain are, as for Spinoza, distinctive aspects of the same 'thing,' so consciousness must arise as a product of self-organizational neural networks as described in terms of unconscious and conscious mind. In his formulation, Atlan posits consciousness as the emergent property resulting from the memory of past neural sequences. The model begins with a series of states of a network that produce some effect, possibly by chance, which is then stored in memory. (This crucial element of chance, or error, is derived from Atlan's basic conception of a biological system self-organizing along both established and novel pathways, where noise and mistakes offer new opportunities for growth and development.) Then through association and memory the sequence is repeated, so that the last state, or a neighboring associated state, triggers the repetition of the sequence that produced it. Inspired by the Wittgenstein-Anscombe criticism of mentalist models of intentional actions, Atlan's model of goal-oriented behavior in a self-organizing network builds from Benjamin Libet's observations that deliberative actions actually occur before conscious awareness. Thus consciousness is a post facto event of observation or awareness of events already initiated and taking place. Accordingly, by self-organizational precepts, consciousness functions as a memory of constructing procedures, which transform "indetermination and randomness into structure and meaning by the dynamics of self-organized memory" (p. 327; emphasis in original).
Consciousness thus becomes part of ordering and signification to further an "intentional self-organizational" process, which strengthens and amplifies the original neuronal sequence. The sequence is transformed into a goal-oriented procedure by an apparent inversion of time, in which the last state causes the repetition of the sequence that produced it. Consciousness experiences the heretofore-unconscious bodily process from an 'observational' perspective, one embedded in neuronal circuitry but exhibiting a different kind of presentation we experience as consciousness. In sum, the mental, more specifically, the conscious brain, is an emergent property associated with memory of global self-organized brain states emerging from the dynamics of neural networks.
For Atlan, free will (the instantiation of consciousness as perceived in the apparent determination of choice or initiating voluntary action) is "merely an illusion created by ignorance of the causes of the body's affections" (p. 315). Indeed, establishing 'cause' can never be fully determined in biological systems. Not so dissimilar from Freud's own confrontation with the "arrogance of consciousness," Atlan has concretized "the unconscious" by a neuronal circuitry independent of an illusionary free will and, concomitantly, autonomy has been displaced by neuronal causality achieved through self-organization. The idea of freedom thus becomes a version of Spinoza's dictum that human freedom resides in the knowledge and internalization of our determinations (again, much as Freud opined, from a very different locus of thought). The consequences for conceptions of personhood rippling forth from that construction have been well rehearsed.
Atlan builds this revision of humanism from his version of psycho-physicalist unity, which, like Spinozist monism, makes no choice between idealism and materialism and instead perceives mind and brain as two attributes of a single unity. The clearest exposition of this construction, and its implications, is found in the 1998 essay, "Immanent causality: A Spinozist viewpoint of evolution and the theory of action" (pp. 216-36). There, Atlan argues that Spinoza's notion of immanent causality -- causa sui, cause of itself -- much like self-organization accounts for evolution "can be seen as the unfolding of a dynamic system or a process of complexification and self-organization of matter, produced as a necessary outcome of the laws of physics and chemistry" (p. 217; emphasis added). Yet we consciously think, and thus mind must be accounted for and its relation to body defined.
Citing Spinoza, the 'mind' is not some separate ontological entity and, correspondingly, it cannot determine the body's actions. Atlan develops a schema in which state I is the cause of state II. And within state I, mental mode A and brain mode B are two aspects of this initial state, and mental mode C and brain mode D are the resulting effects of state I. In Spinozist terms, A and C are modes of the attribute of thought, and B and D are modes of the attribute of extension, and, further, the causal connection between A and C is the same as the causal connection between B and D, not as parallel processes, but as the same. Simply, the two attributes of thought and extension are only two different expressions of the same substance, i.e., A and B are (as are C and D) one and the same. So, given the equivalence, how can Spinoza claim that A (mind) does not cause D (body) or B (body) does not cause C (mind)? Rejecting the two prominent resolutions of this dilemma, i.e., denying non-body mental states altogether or invoking parallelism to solve the apparent imbroglio, Donald Davidson instead argued that Spinoza must hold that a difference exists between a logical reason and a physical cause to explain the apparent confusion. The distinction is not ontological, but only reflects the inability to devise a language that allows us to describe mental events in physical terms, and vice versa. Atlan demurs.
Atlan builds his case by adopting Hilary Putnam's concept of "the synthetic identity of properties" (Reason, Truth, and History, Cambridge, 1981), which is distinguished from "analytical identity." For example, the physical magnitude "temperature" is identical to the "mean molecular kinetic energy" as defined by the kinetic theory of gases. However, this identity is not analytic, because the two sentences are not synonymous but are two different ways of expressing the same property. Analogously, Atlan asserts that such a synthetic identity may be applied to 'mind' and 'brain:' "a mental state is not the cause or effect of a given brain state, since it is this brain state, even though we cannot describe the mental state and the brain state by synonymous expressions" (p. 223). And to understand the causal relationship of mind and brain, Atlan draws the consequences of Spinoza's unique association of ontological monism and epistemic dualism, and accordingly revises Davidson's formulation of "anomalous monism" for a radical monolithic unity along Spinozist lines.
"What is at stake here is not the nature of the causal explanation, which, when adequate cannot be distinguished from the causal relation. What is at stake, rather, is the nature of the identity between C and D" (p. 230), which are united in the effected state II, as are A and B in I. A causes C or D, indifferently (and B causes C or D, indifferently) because C and D are one and the same, and then it is the collective state I (comprising A and B) that causes state II (comprising the two modes, C and D). The relation between A and C and that between B and D are both different ways of describing the relation of state I and state II. The particular descriptions cannot displace one another.
Atlan illustrates his argument by using the synthetic identity of 'temperature' and 'mean molecular kinetic energy' on the one hand, and of 'pressure' and 'force of molecular collisions,' on the other hand. The effect of temperature on gas pressure as described in the macroscopic thermodynamic domain (as A causing C, above) is the same as the effect of molecular kinetic energy on the force of molecular collisions as described in the microscopic domain of molecular kinetics (as B causing D, above). Here, two distinct descriptions of the kinetic theory of gases have been substituted by formal analogy for mental and brain states, respectively, and in so doing Atlan has applied synthetic (but not analytical) identity to show the relationship of mental and brain causal states. Both descriptions capture the same reality, but with two different methods of understanding.
The difference from Davidson's position is that we introduce the dualism of descriptions, not within the causal relation -- which remains as one and which includes both the causal relation and the explanation, assumed to be adequate -- but within the identity of the event, where mental C and physical D, although identical, need different descriptions, which cannot replace one another when related to A and B, respectively. (p. 231)
Spinoza's radical reconfiguration, contemporized by Atlan in his self-organizational theory, not only has broad implications for philosophy of mind (most directly, characterizing consciousness), but the theory also has broad implications for the metaphysics of personal identity and ethics. The loss of simple causation, the displacement of linear logic, and the absence of organic telos by physicochemical and molecular biology has steadfastly placed 'life' into a non-purposive, materialist universe, and with that development, an entire edifice of philosophy must be re-designed. In "Internal purposes, vitalism, and complex systems," (1991, p. 177-191), Atlan explains how organic teleology became a relic of a discarded vitalism, which in turn disrupts the scientific universality of linear rationality that undergirds humanist ethics. Atlan's interpretation of contemporary biology's epistemology has driven Kantian morality into a corner of no escape, for in a probabilistic, deterministic universe, autonomy has been lost and free will has been banished. And then where does moral philosophy reside? Atlan is primarily concerned with the crisis ethics faces when confronted with the alternative configurations of "man the machine" and moral subjects considered in some supernatural formulation. He falls back on pragmatic ethics and instead of some essentialist conception of the human, he settles for the law, a cultural construct, which in its historical practice displaces any conceit of an ethical ontology based in revelation or deontological necessity.
Atlan arrives at this ethics by recognizing how different modes of knowledge must remain in dialogue just as they must remain distinct. The reality of the person is not grounded in facts -- biological or psychological -- but rather in a fuller reality of experience, relationships, history, and belief. This vision of the person, residing at these interfaces, exemplifies his style of philosophy, one that draws its strength from his ability to synthesize diverse discourses -- ranging from biology to interpretations of Biblical stories and Hebrew language. (Of note, The Sparks of Randomness freely interpolates biology and ancient Midrash around the themes considered here, but with a much fuller development of determinist trends in Jewish thought as a repository for understanding moral and legal responsibility in the absence of free will.)
In conclusion, at age 80, Atlan has remained loyal to his own agenda, eschewing the calls of French existentialists and the postmodernists who followed to connect his work to the philosophical tradition of Bachelard and Canguilhelm, which may be broadly characterized as an attempt to draw the fullest philosophical conclusions from the science of the day. Atlan has conceived his own project along these lines while carefully avoiding the seductions of over-extending conclusions from the laboratory to misguided extrapolations in different spheres of thought. He easily moves between the scientific and the technical, the philosophical and the poetic, and he does so ever aware that while these languages must co-exist, they may (but should not) be confounded, for "the perception of reality is always pregnant with the imaginary, but the latter never takes the former's place; where the rationalities of science and of myth can subsist side by side without being confused and can criticize each other" (p. 255). In Enlightenment to Enlightenment (SUNY 1993), Atlan offered an extended argument about the legitimacy of different forms of knowledge and illustrated how easily they were conflated and erroneously employed when misapplied from one domain to another:
an anthropology of knowledge remains possible; but instead of being an explanatory and unifying meta-theory, it becomes the locus of dia­logue between contradictory conceptual frameworks that determine dif­ferent modes of defining what makes a fact a fact, different theories and different criteria of relevance. Even though criteria of truth can function in each of these frameworks, no single criterion traverses all of them. In terms of our own discussion, even though each game has its rules, there is no unique rule for playing with the games. (Atlan 1993, p. 370)
Accordingly, reality becomes a refraction of different ways of seeing and being, of organizing randomness and creating different forms of order.
In sum, as if such a summation is fair to the diversity of his thought, Atlan has re-captured Spinoza's dialectic of Natura naturans and Natura naturata that recognizes, in principle, that a multiplicity of forms, descriptions, and explanations are required to capture reality. So, instead of a singular epistemological strategy or disciplinary knowledge base, Atlan celebrates how a collective of diverse perspectives offer insights not available from any one of the refractions alone. Putatively, in their syntheses, novelty should appear. Reading Atlan, this intuition is amply confirmed and richly rewarded. - Alfred I. Tauber


Miguel Hernández - In Miguel’s earthy and wild poetry all the extravagances of color, of perfume, and of the voice of the Spanish Levant came together, with the exuberance and the fragrance of a powerful and virile youth


Miguel Hernández, Miguel Hernández,  Selected and Translated by Don Share. NYRB Poets, 2013.

Miguel Hernández is, along with Antonio Machado, Juan Ramón Jiménez, and Federico García Lorca, one of the greatest Spanish poets of the twentieth century. This volume spans the whole of Hernández’s brief writing life, and includes his most celebrated poems, from the early lyrics written in traditional forms, such as the moving elegy Hernández wrote to his friend and mentor Ramon Sijé (one of the most famous elegies ever written in the Spanish language), to the spiritual eroticism of his love poems, and the heart-wrenching, luminous lines written in the trenches of war. Also included in this edition are tributes to Hernández by Federico García Lorca, Pablo Neruda (interviewed by Robert Bly), Rafael Alberti, and Vicente Aleixandre. Pastoral nature, love, and war are recurring themes in Hernández’s poetry, his words a dazzling reminder that force can never defeat spirit, that courage is its own reward.

In Miguel’s earthy and wild poetry all the extravagances of color, of perfume, and of the voice of the Spanish Levant came together, with the exuberance and the fragrance of a powerful and virile youth.—Pablo Neruda

Miguel Hernández sang in his deep voice and his singing was as though all the trees were singing.—Octavio Paz

In Don Share’s translations of Miguel Hernández, there is a sense of shared elation between reader and translator that confirms the delight of exact sensation when the poem feels transmitted by that cautious and subtle alchemy that is the translator’s skill. —Derek Walcott

The consummate poet of light, darkness, soul, time, death.—Willis Barnstone

The apparent simplicity of his poems, which speak eloquently of love, poverty and hope, turned Hernández into a popular figure who was elevated to cult status.—El Pais

Raw, passionate, despairing and celebratory.—Publisher’s Weekly

What a victory it is to watch springing forth from our murky thicket of half-commercialized poetry the silver boar of Hernández’s words—to see the world of paper part so as to allow the language tusks and shoulders to emerge, shining, pressed forward by his genius.—Robert Bly

One of the great talents of the century.—Philip Levine, The Kenyon Review

A cherished example of why great poetry is timeless.—Ray Gonzalez, Bloomsbury Review

The poet and playwright Miguel Hernández (1910–1942) was born into a peasant family in the province of Alicante in southeast Spain and died from tuberculosis in a prison hospital there at age thirty-one. For much of his life he worked, like his father, as a shepherd. As a soldier and cultural ambassador for the Republican Army during the Spanish civil war, Hernández read his poems and plays on the radio and on the front lines. When the war ended in 1939, he was arrested and sentenced to death (commuted to thirty years in prison).
In various jails, Hernández wrote many poems that were included in letters to his friends and family, particularly his wife, Josefina Manresa—a seamstress from his hometown Orihuela, with whom he had two sons. “Everything Is Filled with You” was written during this time of imprisonment and was published in 1958 in his final collection of poems, Cancionero y romancero de ausencias (Songs and Ballads of Absence).
Jeffrey Yang

Everything is filled with you,
and everything is filled with me:
the towns are full,
just as the cemeteries are full
of you, all the houses
are full of me, all the bodies.

I wander down streets losing
things I gather up again:
parts of my life
that have turned up from far away.

I wing myself toward agony,
I see myself dragging
through a doorway,
through creation’s latent depths.

Everything is filled with me:
with something yours and memory
lost, yet found
again, at some other time.

A time left behind
decidedly black,
indelibly red,
golden on your body.

Pierced by your hair,
everything is filled with you,
with something I haven’t found,
but look for among your bones.

Miguel Hernández, selected and translated by Don Share, is a powerful introduction to one of Spain’s finest poets. Comparable to Ted Hughes in quality and intensity, Hernández shatters the notion that pastoral verses are synonymous with gentleness. Though the poems temper truth with mercy, it is the death-mercy, the lead gift, that Robinson Jeffers (a comparable poet) gave to his hurt hawks. Miguel Hernández does not flinch from describing either joy or suffering. He insists that we observe the world as it is, that it is the duty of man to change it for the better, and to find the beauty in the blood we spill.
Miguel Hernández died on March 28, 1942 at 5:30 in the morning. He was thirty-one years old. Context will tell you that he was a fighter in, and a victim of, the Spanish Civil War. After the defeat of the Republic, Franco condemned Hernández to death—not for the role he played in the fighting, but for his poetry. The General paid him the compliment of calling him ‘A very dangerous man’, before reducing his sentence to life in order to prevent him from becoming a martyr. It was tuberculosis that slew him in the end, not a volley of rifles. His eldest son starved to death while he was in prison. His wife and younger child survived him.
Hernández inscribed his last verses, like so much graffiti, on the stone wall above his prison cot:
Goodbye, brothers, comrades, friends,
Let me take my leave of the sun and the fields.
A gentle epitaph for a great poet, but the poetry contained in his last letter to his beloved wife, reprinted in this book, was more in keeping with the brutal pastorals and deep understanding of the range of human feeling found in his published verses:
The hemorrhaging has stopped. But you must tell Barbero that the pus is not draining through the tube he put in, for the opening has enlarged, the pus is building up and spills on the bed with any coughing fit. This is a bother and an obstacle to my rate of recovery from the disease. I want to get out of here as soon as possible. They are curing me by stops and starts through their bright ideas, sloppiness, ignorance, negligence. Well, love, I feel better, and as soon as I get out, my recovery will be like lightning. Kisses for my son. I love you, Josefina,
This book contains selections from works that spanned his short life. The earliest are often acerbic, virtuosic poems about something that might conceivably be love. A childhood spent tending sheep on a rock allowed no room for illusions. In “Like the Bull” he compares human courtship to a bull fight:
like the bull I am branded
with a hellish iron in my side,
and, being male, by the fruit of my groin.

like the bull I need to fight for your love.
The usual clichéd poem about love as a conquest would probably not contain a bullfight, and if it did the man would unquestionably be placed in the dominant, more macho role of the fighter. He would slay and vanquish. He would feel no loss. Miguel had a talent for exploding clichés such as this:
Like the bull I follow and chase you,
and you leave my desire on the sword,
like the taunted bull, like the bull.
This poem illuminates the power-play that often runs beneath the act of love. Hernández does this in a way that gives agency to the woman who refuses his terms, who taunts and slaughters by the sword, an instrument whose psychological significance is obvious.
In a later poem, ‘To My Son’, written for his dead child, Hernández uses a series of images, alternating between brutality and redemption, to bring beauty from his loss:
The sun, your sole rival, devoured you…
Ten months in light, with the sky making its rounds,
the dead sun, blackened, entombed, eclipsed.
Without passing through daytime, your hair faded;
your flesh drew toward evening, with dawn just at hand.
In this poem the sun kills its rival, its shadow, and in so doing finds that it has killed itself. Through talent and grief, Hernández takes the over-used image of the redemptive son and makes it new again.
Though shrouded in pain, recovery returns like Christ, like the speaker’s flawed hope for another child, the boy who will live. Death is only permanent for the individual. Life—brutal, implacable life (which allows death)—returns again to shroud the earth.
“War” is among his last, posthumously published poems. In it, Hernández depicts war as a reversal of nature, a brutal uncoupling from the human evolutionary path:
All the mothers of the world
hide their wombs, shiver,
and wish they could retreat
into blind virginity,
into that lonely beginning
and the orphan past.
The people who do not desire regression reduce their humanity through surgery:
Lust for murder invades
the lily’s heart.
All the bodies yearn
to be welded to chunks of metal:
to be married, possessed horribly.
To vanish
In this poem men are marred, becoming automatons, and only death is birthed at last.
Auden, in a poem dedicated to Yeats, wrote that, “poetry makes nothing happen: it survives.” Hernández must have understood that viscerally, trapped as he was behind the thick walls of a prison. He received a letter from Josefina in the last winter of his life in which she said that she had nothing to eat but bread and onions. The poem that he wrote in response to this news, “Lullaby of the Onion,” was dedicated to his son, who was slowly dying of malnutrition.
Helpless in life, his poetry is infused with power. This poem allows Hernández to imagine a victory. He begins with stark realism, describing the slow starvation of his child as the starving boy drinks his mother’s thin, foul milk:
My little boy
was in hunger’s cradle.
He was nursed
on onion blood.
It is not in the nature of the poet to linger on bleakness. He imagines a happier image, “Laugh, son/ you can swallow the moon.” But the moon is not a joke. It is a symbol for death, the eternal lunar mother. The realism returns with a startling physical description:
The flesh fluttering,
the sudden eyelid,
and the baby is rosier
than ever.
It is clear that this infant is dying. The helplessness Hernández feels is equally clear, as is the knowledge that poetry, his poetry, can make nothing happen. The only survival for him, and his family, is in words. Hernández draws the moon down once again, dismissing any illusion of succor, plunging fully into myth. He ends the poem with renunciation:
Fly away, son, on the double
moon of the breast:
it is saddened by onion,
you are satisfied.
Don’t let go.
Don’t find out what’s happening,
or what goes on.

In a letter to Hernández, contained in this book, Federico Lorca writes, ‘you show, in the middle of savage things (that I like), the gentleness of your heart, that is so full of pain and light.’ Those words present an accurate depiction of the soul present in the heart of these poems. Hernández utilizes unique imagery, narrative, and creative inversions of well-thumbed truisms to create work that is far more powerful, and far less mortal, than the man. - Bethany W. Pope

Miguel Hernández
Miguel Hernández Gilabert was born on 30 October 1910 in the town of Orihuela, near Murcia, in southeastern Spain, to poor parents. His father, Miguel Hernández Sánchez, a herdsman and dealer in sheep and goats, took for granted that his son would soon be hard at work helping with the family business. From a very early age the young Miguel was expected to perform menial tasks around the house and stable. A lengthy, enriched education was out of the question, both for economic and socio-cultural reasons; instead of starting school at the usual age, Hernández was forced for years to shepherd his father's flock. This grueling, solitary experience had a profound impact on him. His work on the farm led him to establish a special bond with nature, and he later drew on that experience in his poetry.
When Hernández's passion for reading and writing became evident, his father tried hard to discourage such impractical pursuits. However, Hernández had made a conscious decision to become a poet. Gifted with an ability to versify and a phenomenal memory, he survived a difficult apprenticeship during which, with the help and advice of close friends and mentors, he managed to learn Hispanic literature and culture, particularly the poetry and theater, at the same time mastering a wide variety of styles of poetry from earlier decades and other cultures. Against enormous odds, he broke loose from the severe limitations of his humble beginnings to emerge as one of the greatest and best-loved Spanish poets.
One common thread in the lives of so many of Hernández's contemporaries is their education, erudition, and worldliness; unlike them, he was rigidly forbidden to indulge in such interests by his father, who saw no use for formal education or for what his son wrote and recited. Throughout most of his youth Hernández was in conflict with his father over his desire to read and study, and later over his ambition to become a poet. Hernández’s early poems were thus shaped and inspired as much by the numbing routine of his pastoral chores as by the poets whose works he read. His day-to-day chores provided a common motif in poems, such as "En cuclillas, ordeño una cabrita y un sueño" (Squatting on My Heels, I Milk My Goat and My Dream, in Obra completa, 1992), a short poem which illustrates his early predilection for creating visual and auditory metaphors out of the down-to-earth scenes of everyday life. In "Aprendiz de Chivo" (The Apprentice Kid, also in Obra completa) Hernández depicts the miracle of birth, the awkward yet splendid first moments of a newborn goat as it slowly awakens to the pleasures of its mother's milk and the sheer joy of being alive. Although many of Hernández's early poems probably have not survived, about forty of them were published for the first time in Obra completa, which includes over one hundred previously unpublished works.
In the years immediately after Hernández left school, he befriend the Catholic writer Sijé (Marín Gutierrez) who was drawn to Hernández for his poetry and intellect. Sijé became Hernández's mentor and guru, suggesting that he study in great depth the sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Spanish poets and dramatists and teaching him to fashion his verse with particular care for allegory, semantics, and symbols. Hernández’s poem, "Pastoril," which he had written in his beloved orchard, was published in the Pueblo de Orihuela on 13 January 1930; his career as a published poet had begun.
Madrid at the time was the literary and cultural capital of Spain; Hernández naturally was drawn to it and made his first trip in 1931. His enthusiasm was dispelled by the cool reception he met within the Spanish metropolis. The tension caused in Hernández by the differences between big-city and country life was to affect him and pervade his poetry at every stage of his life. The butt of mildly unflattering articles, Hernández returned to Orihuela but not before publishing a poem, "Reloj rústico" (Rustic Clock, now in Obra completa ), in the Gaceta Literaria (1 May 1932). On his way home, however, he was stopped and imprisoned for not having the proper documentation—the first of two such arrests that left indelible impressions on Hernández. He was obliged to contact his family and friends for funds to get him out of jail, where he remained for several days. He felt that his six months in Madrid had been a disaster; help from the cultural powers had not been forthcoming, nor would it be for years to come.
Back in Orihuela, Hernández worked menial jobs and wooed the daughter of an officer of the Guardia Civil, Josefina Manresa. Their long and tumultuous courtship would be an inspiration for much of Hernández’s later love poetry. Sijé's influence on Hernández also became especially strong following his return in seeming disgrace from Madrid. Hernández was hard at work composing his first book, "Poliedros"—published as Perito en lunas (Lunar Expert, 1933). Although he had absorbed through his reading the styles and techniques of baroque pastoral poetry, his "lunar" Arcadia was far removed from its aristocratic source. Beneath the artifice of his culteranismo (art for the sake of art) conceits, his poetry abounds with regional themes, rustic flavors, and popular images intimately linked with the common elements of life on the land: wells and irrigation systems; trees and vegetation; bulls and roosters; and palms and snakes—proof of Hernández's deep attachment to the natural world around him, the wellspring of his pantheism.
With the publication of Perito en lunas Hernández had finally proved himself a full-fledged poet. His career took off rapidly from that point, and his work evolved from the hermetic baroque style of Perito en lunas through the sensual love poems and quasi-religious themes of early versions of El silbo vulnerado (The Injured Whistle, posthumously published in 1949), to the crystal clarity and sexual candor of the sonnets in later versions of El silbo vulnerado and Imagen de tu huella (Image of Your Footprint, published in 1963), which were reworked in Hernández's first major work, El rayo que no cesa (1936; translated as Unceasing Lightning, 1986).
Hernández returned to Madrid in March 1934 where he befriended poets like Frederico Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, and Vicente Aleixandre. Drawn deeper and deeper into the circle of poets that favored the Republican government and its socialist views, Hernández moved further away from Orihuela and Sijé's influence. When Sijé paid him a visit in Madrid, it was clear that, though they remained close friends, irreconcilable changes had drawn a permanent intellectual barrier between them. Hernández remained torn between two worlds, between the artificial, decadent city and the pure, Arcadian countryside. In June 1935 Hernández collaborated on an homage to Neruda which included a warm dedication (collected in Obra completa) and three then-unpublished cantos materiales (material songs) from Residencia en la tierra. His support of Neruda cost him Sijé’s friendship and he returned to Orihuela emotionally drained; however, the loss also occasioned one of his great poems. In late December 1935, Sijé died of pneumonia. Devastated by the news and beset by terrible feelings of guilt, Hernández turned inward to concentrate and distill his sorrow, composing an elegy to Sijé that many critics consider to be one of the finest elegies in the Spanish language. First published in Revista de Occidente on 10 January 1936, the elegy is an earthy evocation of his friendship and love for Sijé and of Sijé's long-standing influence on Hernández:

Yo quiero ser llorando el hortelano
de la tierra que ocupas y estercolas,
compañero del alma, tan temprano.
Alimentando lluvias, caracolas
y órganos mi dolor sin instrumento,
a las desalentadas amapolas
daré tu corazón por alimento.
Tanto dolor se agupa en mi costado
que por doler me duele hasta el aliento.

I want to be the grieving gardener
of the earth you fill and fertilize,
my dearest friend, so soon.
With rain and snails my stifled sorrow
nourishes the organs of your body
and I would feed your heart
the drooping poppies. Pain bunches up
between my ribs till every breath I draw
becomes an aching stitch.

—translation by Edwin Honig (from The Unending Lightning, 1990)

Hernández’s style evolved from a tendency toward traditionalism to greater and greater independence of form and imagery. His early preference for the octava and the sonnet and his penchant for la tropología culterana (culturalist tropology) eventually gave way to the simpler textures and more direct language of the canción (song) and the romance (ballad), revealing his kinship with Machado and Lorca. This coexistence of popular and sophisticated art, common throughout most of Spanish history, was also typical of Spanish literature in the 1930s.
The culmination of Hernández's enthusiasm for traditional forms can be found in El rayo que no cesa. These poems were composed over a crucial two-year period in Hernández's career: 1934–1935. As such, El rayo que no cesa is a pivotal work in Hernández's development as a poet. His discovery of love, in the person of Josefina, caused him to search out a richer, yet more restricted, vocabulary, less excessively decorative and more functional. Hernández still exhibits a love of wordplay, conceits, and occasional verbal and rhetorical excess, but much less so than in earlier works. The influence of the religious eroticism latent in the Song of Songs and de la Cruz's Cántico Espiritual (Spiritual Canticle, 1584) can be felt throughout, as well as echoes of Neruda's Residencia en la tierra and Aleixandre's La destrucción o el amor.
On 18 July 1936 a Spanish military uprising led by Generalissimo Francisco Franco in the North African province of Melilla caused vital Spanish services, such as mail and trains, to come to a stop. Sometime during the next day, Lorca, who ironically had left Madrid to seek the comparative peace and safety of his beloved Andalusia, was captured by the military and killed with some other prisoners near Granada. Such mass executions and other chaotic events threw the country into turmoil and exemplified the wanton death and destruction of the next three years. The Spanish Civil War had a disastrous effect on all aspects of life in the country, particularly those involving culture. Many of the greatest intellectuals and finest artists eventually left the country to live in exile; others, like Lorca, Miguel de Unamuno, and Machado, died at the onset or during the war; and a few others, such as Hernández, died not long afterward as a direct result of that brutal conflict and the subsequent savage reprisals and executions.
Hernández soon enrolled in the well-known Fifth Regiment, part of the Republican forces fighting Franco and the Nationalists; he also joined the First Calvary Company of the Peasants' Battalion as a cultural-affairs officer, reading his poetry daily on the radio. He traveled extensively throughout the area, organizing cultural events and doing poetry readings for soldiers on the front lines, or even pitching in where necessary to dig a ditch or defend a position. As more and more war poems flowed from his pen, he slowly approached the status of prime poet of the nation during the war years.
Hernández and Josefina were finally married in Orihuela on 9 March 1937 in a no-frills civil ceremony attended by close friends Carlos Fenoll and Jesús Poveda. The atmosphere at the wedding was not entirely happy, but Hernández's post-marital poetry soon took on new tones and colors, full of sensuality and sexuality seemingly fulfilled. Hernández kept busy working on his poetry during the war, correcting proofs of Viento del pueblo and preparing speeches. When his propaganda unit was shifted to Castuera in Estremadura province, he took time off from his exhausting pace to see Josefina and came down with a severe case of anemia. Hugh Thomas, noted Spanish Civil War historian, mentions the accelerating pace of Hernández's literary activities during the war years, a pace that inevitably took a heavy toll on the poet's health and required him to rest and recuperate on several occasions.
During the war, Hernández also took part in the International Writers’ Congress, held in Madrid and Valencia, and the Fifth Festival of Soviet Theater in Moscow. Attending as one of a group of Spanish intellectuals, the Moscow trip influenced Hernández’s burgeoning dramatic style. However, his commitment to a democratic Spain, and his inability to escape into exile after the triumph of Franco’s troops, meant that he faced a life of arrest and imprisonment. Sentenced to death at one point, his term was commuted to 30 years. Years of war and struggle had left him weakened, however, and Miguel Hernández died in prison, of tuberculosis, in 1942. - www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/miguel-hernandez

Miguel Hernández: Twenty Poems

Translated by A. S. Klin

Crab Man and Signpost - The book is designed to help anyone who makes, or would like to make, walk-performances or variations on the guided tour: Examine the cracks in your street and the mould on its walls, note its graffiti, collect its detritus, observe how its pavements are used and abused, etc

Cover of A Sardine Street Box of Tricks by Crab Man and Signpost

Crab Man and Signpost [Phil Smith & Simon Persighetti], A Sardine Street Box of Tricks, Triarchy Press, 2012.


A Sardine Street Box of Tricks is a handbook for anyone who wants to make their own 'mis-guided' tour or walk.
Written by 'Crab Man' and 'Signpost' (Phil Smith and Simon Persighetti – both members of Exeter-based Wrights & Sites group), the book is based on the mis-guided 'Tour of Sardine Street' that they created for Queen Street in Exeter during 2011.
The book is designed to help anyone who makes, or would like to make, walk-performances or variations on the guided tour. It describes a range of different approaches and tactics, and illustrates them with examples from their tour of Queen Street. For example:

  • Wear something that sets you apart and gives others permission to approach you: “Excuse me, what are you supposed to be?”
  • Take a can of abject booze from the street or a momentary juxtaposition of a dove and a plastic bag and mould them, through an action, into an idea
  • Attend to the smallest things
  • Examine the cracks in your street and the mould on its walls, note its graffiti, collect its detritus, observe how its pavements are used and abused
  • Set yourself tasks that passers-by will be intrigued by: they will enjoy interrupting and even joining in with you
  • Draw upon ambiguous, ironical or hollowed-out rituals to complement the multiplicity of your walk with intensity of feeling or depth of engagement.
  • And so on…


CrabMan (Phil Smith), Mythogeography: A guide to walking sideways, Triarchy Press, 2010.

At its simplest, Mythogeography is a way of walking, thinking and visiting a place on many levels at the same time. Anyone can do it. You can do it. Walking becomes a performance, walkers become performers and the route becomes their co-star.
In a city, for example, walkers become aware of their urban home as a site, a forum, a playground and a stage: all there to enjoy, understand and provoke on multiple levels:
  1. Shops, houses, streets
  2. Tourist sites, visitor centres, museums, heritage industry
  3. Visible archaeology and history
  4. Community/social/collective ambitions, hopes, disappointments, failures
  5. Personal memories and recollections
  6. Invisible and forgotten history
  7. Concealed history (crime, disease, squalor)
  8. Childhoods, loves, hates
  9. Myths, legends and rumours
  10. Private dreams, imaginings and fantasies
The levels of the city are reflected back in the many levels of the walker - the public and the private, fact and dream, admissible and inadmissible, forgotten and remembered, past and future.

Mythogeography - The Book - is:
2 parts story
The first section of the book is the gloriously funny and endlessly fascinating account of the author's recent journey on foot across the north of England in the footsteps of a man who made the same journey 100 years ago sowing acorns in the company of a dog called Pontiflunk.
Read a snippet

1 part handbook 
The "handbook of drifting" and the "orrery" later in the book have ideas on walking like a stalker, like a swimmer, like a ghost, like an explorer, like a pilgrim... and that's just the start. Learn about how to organise your own procession, the philosophy of walking, crabs in society, UFOs in Devon, Uri Geller, the political geography of cities, the madness of municipal history and much, much more (as they say).
Read another snippet

As the author puts it:

From the transnational pilgrim to the person who 'drifts off' on the way to the shops, Mythogeography addresses the means, uses and consequences of 'walking sideways', of deploying the ordinary act of walking as a lever to prise the lid off everyday life.

This book is not entirely conventional. It consists of an assemblage of sometimes unreliable, sometimes fractious documents hung around a flawed, yet epic tale of a journey in search of oak trees. It floats numerous narratives around this travelogue, weaving a matrix of possible trajectories for the reader from passive contemplation to wild pilgrimage and activist pedestrianism. The book's second half contains advice, tasks, guidance, kits and mental maps: a toolbag of information and suggestions for the reader who wants to take the next step. Mixing entrepreneurial drive, rambling discourses and post-dramatic performance with soft architecture and post-politics-politics, Mythogeography is a guide to strolling in the cracks in the pavement and a means to walking out on the Spectacle.


Mythogeography is a book for walkers, artists who use walking in their art, students who are discovering and studying a world of resistant and aesthetic walking, anyone troubled by official guides to anywhere, urbanists, geographers, site-specific performers, town planners and un-planners, urban explorers, entrepreneurs and activists who don’t want to drive to the revolution.

Cecilia Corrigan - a series of punchlines of non-set up jokes self-avowedly sketchy and 90s, sort of sloppy and bananas poetics: 'Oh look can I get a volunteer to call me ‘the enemy of all things good and holy?'

Image result for Cecilia Corrigan, Titanic,
Cecilia Corrigan, Titanic, Lake Forest College Press, 2014.

Cecilia Corrigan’s first book, Titanic, is an epic love poem depicting the eternal gothic romance between man and machine. Titanic’s protagonist is Alan Turing, cracker of codes and father of artificial intelligence. Turing escapes his frustrated love life and tragic death into the safe haven of virtual reality. The setting shifts from Snow White’s forest to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s seminar at Cambridge, amid iMessage chats and appearances by a cast of thrilling guest stars, including Frank O’Hara, Spike and Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Julianne Moore’s BMW. Titanic: collide with destiny!

“Cecilia Corrigan’s poems dissolve into the real the way foam laps against a giddy shore or greasepaint becomes part of the skin or the mercurial is denied entrance to the dispensary. Titanic makes whimsy infectious.” —Charles Bernstein

Former television writer Corrigan places Alan Turing at the center of a bizarrely playful debut collection. The blurred continuum between technology and humanity—where does one end and the other begin?—has long been a poetic trope, but it’s rare for a book to perceive the contemporary moment so authentically, let alone presciently. Corrigan achieves this by refusing to limit her work to a prescribed set of forms; its lexical, thematic, and narrative landscapes vary as to appear otherworldly. Her poem “The Phenomenon of Fantasy Football Teams Signifies a Lot of Things” transforms from a mock spreadsheet into stanzas that reuse the table’s language before becoming a letter to a mother about “our earthly existence.” Poems move in and out of talk shows, scenes and characters and rationales come and go—the whole of the book a series of rapidly shifting events. The experience of reading it, while disorienting, can be exhilarating; the musculature of taut poetic lines and earned insight keep it going, as “Still we are bound, destined to endeavor, and to the critical./ Why did you never tell me how sweet it is: the rational?” The book flaunts intentional errors and is also quite funny: “I overstate, saying that having a body was just/ hell on so many levels, no homo.” Many readers will find Corrigan’s lines to be nonsense, but for those ready for a hybrid ride, here is the ticket. - Publishers Weekly

Image result for Cecilia Corrigan, True Beige,

Cecilia Corrigan, True Beige, Trafficker Press, 2013.

Don’t call me ‘you,’ me!, Cecilia Corrigan commands herself in a startling line from her recent chapbook True Beige (Trafficker Press, 2013). I read this line and totally flipped out. Throughout her voracious and hilariously self-defeating piece, Corrigan weaves similar, self-reflexive threads that jolted me out of my basic assumptions about everyone’s roles in this unspoken contract: the poet writes a poem, bows out, and then the reader reads it. Not in Corrigan’s world. Here, the poet sticks around. Her active gaze follows you everywhere; it makes a subject of you, of the poem, of itself (Cecilia?), of the narrator (separate from Cecilia?), and of other characters, swiftly and freakily, like a demon possessing different hosts.
The poet’s thoughts about the unfolding poem appear often: These Sentences are getting more complicated in this poem, now; The ‘you’ is shifting in the poem; So many abrupt changes in this poem! By reminding the reader of everything that is happening as it is happening, Corrigan creates a real-time temporality that slaps your imagination on the wrist just when you were about to suspend disbelief. Spooky, twisted, and strong, each of these observations seems to be Corrigan’s cannibal who eats her own body.
The narrator of True Beige has a brassy voice, eager to leap off the page and into a throat.The read-in-my-head text simulates a read-out-loud text, aperformance. There’re only two possible outfits I could wear which could be appropriate for the performance of this poem brings me right there, in the audience, watching the poet in her outfit, gesticulating. When I read, Oh look can I get a volunteer to call me ‘the enemy of all things good and holy?’ I’m like “Ooh! pick me!” Because I do want to call her that.
The narrator further transforms the reader into a listener with these deliberately audible emphases: liiiike, It is so uhhhh?,MATH MATH! MATH! .But the listener in this audience doesn’t stay distanced from the performer. Corrigan is quick to wink at you, show you backstage, even take you home with her. You get to be in her room late at night, creeping over her shoulder, watching her lean on the w key: I think it was the American Poetry Reviewwwwwwwwwwwwww. There are other, less intentional, spelling and grammatical errors that show up across the poem like little cuts and scrapes. Did someone copy edit this? The effect is either revealing of some kind of rough honesty, or just a product of an editorial process that was, as the poet puts it, a real horror.
Settings and narratives in True Beige arise and drift off. Cecilia is in front of a classroom, she gchats with Trisha Low, writes little essay fragments on Spinoza, makes outrageous requests of interns. A breathless female character shows up at a library, then at a Delray Beach restaurant, a brief glimpse at cinematic clarity. These tantalizing moments of story fade in and out – well-placed and oddly erotic distractions from the main work of the poem, which is, invariably, the writing of the poem. Corrigan shows us everything about this process with unflagging irony: Ok. insert dialogue from maybe a movie?Oh should I mention something German now?
Roman numeral sections and poems within poems provide some structural organization of the work. Corrigan calls her Roman numeral use a bad habit and a lazy self aggrandizing style, an admission both shameless and accurate. The poems in poems are tricky though. The narrator will periodically find a poem under a floorboard, or a rock with a poem tied to it will fly through the window, and the reader will be momentarily fooled into thinking that this is the entrance of a brand new poetic voice, only to hear the same the narrator’s voice, hidden behind the italics. This move comes off as egotistical, but also honest, like the poem itself. Corrigan’s narcissism is so explicit that it evades judgment or criticism. She writes, I couldn’t stand being around anyone who didn’t think I was the best and most enchanting person ever. You can’t argue with that. It’s beautiful.
The persistent but complicated feminism of True Beige rings true to the scenarios in the life of a young-privileged-white-academic-female (I would know, I’m one myself). The female narrator fluctuates between outrage (he was looking at my shirt ‘yeah I know it’s see through fuck you I’ll rape you’) and apologetic doubt (sorry to be so negativedoes this make any sense?) and a combo of the two (Yeah, I’ve looked at other women. Yeah I hate my body. Ts’a lifestyle choice). A lot of her feminism shoots arrows directly at the patriarchy of the poetry academia scene as well. I delighted in her line Do I sound like Bruce Andrews yet?, a sarcastic jab at the broetry (poetry bro) community that fawns over the straight-white-male poetry canon.
Corrigan warns her reader immediately on the first page: I’m a big faker. She seems to dismissively admit that the content of her entire poem is arbitrary, instructing, just imagine I’m saying different things. And as a reader, this is extremely comforting. You realize like, yeah, that’s right. It doesn’t even matter. All I really care about is the sound of her voice. And I think that’s a product of the expert and almost manipulative flirtiness the narrator plays with. She calls you baby, she seduces you completely. And ultimately the poem is about her power over you: without Cecilia you would not exist. (In that particular moment, the you is actually the poem, but I couldn’t also help but feel that is was also me). It’s about Cecilia Corrigan being the shiny object. And does it turn me off? No. It wrestles me into total submission. I put up a tiny fight for show, but totally love being pinned down.
If I had to assign an image to the whole poem, I would describe it as a ruched silk glove, unavoidably beige.The spacious, drifting fragments of text create the effect of the glove’s fabric falling away from itself in loose folds, and the dense, prose-y sectionsare where the glove clings to itself with the tight cinching of elastic. In True BeigeCorrigan puts on this glove, winds up, and spanks you. Or does she finger you? Feel you up? Titty twist you? Whatever it is, you like it. - Leslie Allison

Miranda Mellis interviews Cecilia K. Corrigan

MM: Cecilia, the form of your aphoristic, annotative, epistolary, comical, scrawled-on-the-bathroom wall, or ripped script of a text is described by the content. “These are all the things I’m going to chop up later,” the narrator tells us, so I’ll characterize the piece, using your lines, as a series of “punchlines of non-set up jokes” self-avowedly “sketchy and 90s,” “sort of sloppy and bananas poetics.” There’s no “writing this like Beckett” because that’s “one of those things only a person who’s already dead would have done well.” The text pushes back at a range of pressures, including the pressure of the sentence, but then, reflexive to a fault (“Do I sound like Bruce Andrews yet?”) it suddenly becomes inert, recessive, falls off. Like trying to punch in a dream, there’s a will to be kinetic, but the medium is somehow exhausted and there’s an abyss between every utterance, or a trap in every heuristic. It’s a “female voice that worked best” we’re reminded, but one precipice later the body is “on a stage feeling naked everyone laughing at me” and so the “female voice,” whatever it has meant, whether or not it “worked best,” is sublated, a mere literary device, while her (presumably her) naked body is laughed at, abject. Inverting the confessional, the text says Fuck it, fuck it (or fuck me, fuck me!), but is haunted withal by an apparatus projecting the idea that “I” will, inevitably, resigned, need to cathect to a “stabilizing force” and become a mother (which takes place, wittily, over “thousands and thousands of years”). Assimilating “like a consonant” is as inevitable and naturalized as the transformation of a D into an L. Here figures don’t choose how they signify–“You think you come up with a new way of being-with but really you just forgot stuff that happened”– nor is there any avoiding the prolepses of reproductive family life. Is this writing itself a “delaying tactic” for you, to hold atavisms (aesthetic and sexual) at bay?
CKC: As a whole, this piece is an attempt to communicate a clear and distinct idea, and a singular one, not a multiplicity. I know the work doesn’t look that way: in fact what's left on the page is quite a mess. It’s the result of a crazy fracas, a party where I invited way too many people, from too many different social groups. Sorry about the tacked on metaphor, metaphor’s the snake in the grass that shows up when I try to make determinate statements. Anyway, the writing itself looks to me like water rings left on the dining room table and inexplicable half eaten take out in the fridge. The ways in which it's clear and distinct are more like the ways an event clearly happened than the ways an idea is clearly true. An event, even when it’s in the past, is made real by its trace effects: you know something happened in a confined space at a set time, even if you can’t describe what it was. Fox Mulder said it best, “I've often felt that dreams are answers to questions we haven't yet figured out how to ask.” I believe your question primarily applies to the sections of the piece that look the most like a poem (the more confessional parts with the short, clipped, stuttering lines). I’m not into mystification, so I’d like to describe the means of production for that section, and to do the same for the other voices, or channels, of the piece, (I’m going to use the words channels and voices to mean the same thing). So that part, let’s call it the “confessional voice,” was mostly written on the subway, when I was up at some ungodly hour on my way to teach that now-empty acronym, the SAT. I was generally too zonked out to read and too awake to sleep, so I tried to write this as an exercise. It wasn’t originally meant as even a creative project for the “public eye,” (if that’s even where we are now?) it was more like an inside joke or game I played against myself.
To explain what I mean by “exercise.” I felt like I each time I started to write, my education (both academic and social) was influencing my choices in a way that felt smothering. Every reference or allusion felt like Winnicott's transitional object, and I wanted to test out what would happen if rather than grasping, I just noticed my desire for the safety of either obfuscation or derivative literary devices, while resisting giving in to either one. So the exercise was to notice every impulse and try to record it as it was happening without allowing myself to relate it to the poem as a whole, or to justify it with any kind of intellectual apparatus. It was an experiment, not a political choice. I'm not “rejecting” anything here, just acknowledging that I'll never really be able to inhabit or possess the things I admire or desire, and it's frustrating. Winnicott might say I had to try to destroy the objects of my narcissistic attachment, once I learned they were external to my body. “The price has to be paid in acceptance of the ongoing destruction in unconscious fantasy relative to object-relating” (DW).
That's the frustration you notice in the Beckett line; it’s my inverted desire to take on a formally regulated voice, validated by a procedure or apparatus, an impossible desire to fulfill because doing so feels like I'm wearing a dead white guy’s body, and not in the fun way. So the “inverted confessional voice” as you describe it, wasn't actually ever supposed to have a lyric function, the whole piece was sort of meant to be an examination of my own avoidance tactics. The text as a whole is definitely attempting to do something kinetic, but it keeps getting choked out by self-reflexivity. Every one of the voices is coughing and choking, and so the cultural hierarchy is flattened, made equal, because no one can really get to the point. Or rather, they start to, and get cut off before they can elaborate and really win the audience-reader over. It's like every person in the poem is standing at the bar with a group of avant (or academic if that’s your poison) bros, and watching them talk to each other, waiting for the right moment to dash into the conversation and slip her contribution in like a knife. But in this poem, maybe everyone talking is the outsider amongst the avant-bros and I'm the bro? Something like that. The self-reflexivity frustrates my ability to move forward in the work, or rather traps me so I can only continue writing through deflection: shuffling compulsively through techniques, through a bag of tricks.
Turning away from successive voices manifested in a tendency to use disjuncture, to deconstruct, to write in a way that could, as you point out, be considered “feminine” as per Cixous or Irigaray. This style of attack also frustrated me, as yet another distancing device which I discard, return to, fall back towards, and so forth. That particular voice in the text continually performs and rejects the “talking cure.” The piece comes to the same breakthrough over and over again but experiences no release. The breakthrough is this: that overcoming my distaste for sectarian aesthetic groups is an impossibility, but also that a radical stance seems the only way to protect myself & my work from the pull of the aesthetic & social “middle” (those atavisms you mention).
To say this another way. The poem exhibits the classic symptoms of a garden-variety neurotic. I long for comfort, but fear that with it would come a complete loss of control (over my urges, over the text, over my body). Apology as side note: a friend of mine recently pointed out I tend to anthropomorphize tones or affects as characters, sort of the way the ancient Greeks did with natural and psychological phenomena. So, I apologize if it gets confusing when I slip and talk about them as people. I’ll talk about the other voices in the piece now. There’s sections from two academic papers, one on Ulysses, one on Spinoza’s Ethics, as well as a text I wrote as a collaboration with the artist Kah Bee Chow for her gallery show in Sweden. There are also a couple poems (described as threatening letters) that are older work, repurposed but not rehabbed. The bit of dialogue at the end of the piece is an excerpt from a gchat with my friend Trisha Low, whose essay Kitty Complicity: On Hello Kitty band-aid as cosmological fetish, is also lurking in this piece. I’d like to say more about that. Parts of True Beige were originally part of an essayistic, vaguely scholarly talk on Spinoza, Joyce, and desire, which I presented alongside Trisha’s essay. It’s hard to find the right word to explain how our compositional processes were related, maybe simply by saying that we’ve been close friends and intellectual /poetic co-conspirators for many years, and it felt natural to have these two pieces verge incestuously near to one another in content and style. In Kitty, Trisha writes about the band-aid as an object designed to both conceal and fetishize the female wound, occasionally breaking out of the critical into a pained, confessional letter to a lover. She writes “applying the Hello Kitty band-aid is certainly complicit in making a wound palatable but also labels itself with a narrative implying a history of silencing. A case wherein the wound remains concealed and yet is so very loudly and formally pronounced.”
Or, in Mulder’s words, “I wanted to believe. But the tools had been taken away...They closed our eyes. Our voices have been silenced. Our ears now deaf to the realms of extreme possibilities.”
MM: I understand you have written for HBO and there’s a certain split or tension you feel in navigating between the rough tangle of poetics and the smooth artifices of the TV serial. Yet there is something to your “non-set up jokes” that one hears in the better television writing these days, something of the tang of poetry, especially in HBO programs that push the medium. Though you’d miss the missing half of the quotation mark, I could imagine some televisual, half-finished “I” performing your line Remember when I was like “I. On “Enlightened” last Sunday, Mike White’s character Tyler, in an extended, poetic interior monologue, describes himself as “the ghost” and “a pearl” that no one sees. Do you see your poetic practice as also a training for writing literary television, and is there any vice versa?
CKC: Generally, writing for television, (in my totally green experience) is much more focussed on keeping things tight and above-board than poetry–and I worked for the very poetically-minded show runner David Milch– but I think you’re definitely right that the two are starting to have more in common; to be, if not bedfellows, at least friendly acquaintances. Not in every case, but certain entities in both fields are starting to use their commonalities as advantages. David, my boss on the show, did a show called John from Cincinnati that didn’t do well ratings-wise because, well, it was a bit strange, but I think followed a very poetic logic, more than anything else I’ve ever seen on television. It could have been like, Bruce LaBruce or David Lynch! I just love it, it’s really a beautiful show.
The most important thing that I think television and poetry have in common is that they’re regulated by set, discrete time limits, which break down the larger whole into small parts. I’m saying episode is to season as poem is to poetry book. To respond to your question about training, I’d say I aspire to imitate television in my poetry or, to be less cute, to plunder the tactics television uses to control and compel its viewer.
Poetry is a perfect space to set up multiple voices, it’s a form where the page is a lot more like a screen than a page. I describe switching between voices as changing channels. It's an obvious metaphor but appropriate: the juxtaposing scripts and chatter are in part attempts to recreate the feeling of switching channels, gchatting, reading an article online, and eating, all at once.
Alternatively, this is what happens in True Beige: somebody's sitting in a small space between their bureau and their bed with their laptop on their knees, digesting food and talking to multiple people on gchat at the same time, and they're getting accusatory emails from probably an ex or a parent. The overarching character speaking here is a sad clown who’s not getting any laughs, could be a creepy clown too if that’s your thing...
About the transition to a more performative tone. At a certain point, I got fed up with all these voices stammering in frustration, and intervened, shifting the tonal aphasia towards exploiting this textual weakness by using the voices as character foils for one another: jumping between the academic and the confessional etc. It's hopefully a little funny. I like to think of the tone as vaudevillian; that the piece creates a sort of stage for my own embarrassment, and pursuant rejection of said embarrassment through bald-faced showmanship.
I have a great admiration for writers whose work is replete with a nervous energy that communicates both self-control and extreme risk, whose work takes its goals seriously while at the same time knowing it might be laughed at and treated like a clown. I like thinking of this project as an attempt to follow in the footsteps of my dogmatically skeptical heros, like Wittgenstein for instance. He’s a total superhero of neurotic self-reflection, in the way he flinches looking at his subject while attempting to get a grip on it. He had reason to flinch, going after the core problems in language and philosophy, whereas I don’t have that much to be nervous about, I’m just trying to find a way to write some kind of subjective relatable experience.
You mention the tension around assimilation, as to whether it’s inevitable and part of being culturally naturalized. I thought that was interesting, because a large part of the original exercise was to notice what I resisted, “naturally,” and to notice those things towards which I was drawn which seemed “unnatural,” like heuristics or apparati. To some extent there’s a desire to find out what’s a priori in my mind, and what is “artificial,” what’s been planted there. I just realized that for all my crushes on cognitive science and philosophy of language, this is a bit of a Cartesian exercise after all.
I was writing this while reading some of Sontag's journals, and I pillaged little things from her, which are threaded through the piece. She was so self-aware, constantly analyzing things she’d thought or said in the past, and so hard on herself! I've always been really interested in people's notebooks and journals, like I remember when I was about 12, I read The Great Gatsby, and I went right out and found Fitzgerald's Notebooks. Now I remember his little notes more clearly than I remember the details of Gatsby, and it's been just as long since I've read them. I've always been obsessed with the personal notes and marginalia of artists and intellectuals that I like, because I guess I think that those are their “real” thoughts. Or maybe it’s just comforting to me to feel sort of kinship with people's self-reflexivity, especially people I admire. I think people’s personal notes and correspondence can allow great intimacy, while sidestepping the sort of schlocky taste that can make “Confessional Writing” so hard to swallow. In this piece, I tried to play with the idea of intimacy between writer and reader by including things like gchats and (what appears to be) information about my personal life. I wanted the invasion of my personal space to transition from being implicit towards being explicit, and ultimately, for the reader to feel like they’re watching someone being pulled apart right in front of them when they read it.

MM: There are a crowd of men in the poem, several deranged, invading letters from creepy sources, wrapped around rocks or hidden under the floor, and then there are a few scripts in the works, including a parody in which the narrator wants “men’s styles to move from “dry” (objective, action oriented) to “wet” (emotionally bogged down, introspective). And this latter piece is “set in 2003, because I think it was the “emo peak” of our culture in terms of expressive self-pity.” Bagdad was invaded in 2003, and millions of people protested; more people than had ever protested at once, protested that invasion globally. The ideological freight of the “objective, action oriented” man was epitomized by the dissimulating, spectacular postures of the Bush administration with respect to the invasion. And people were “emotionally bogged down,” depressed if not in despair that Bush had come into power despite not winning that office. “All desires are for imaginary objects,” you write, paraphrasing Spinoza. The “objective, action oriented” and “dry” men above enact the Spinozan “tendency of cognition to form perceptions based on self-preservation rather than clear and distinct truths.” We believe what will preserve us, not what we can verify and “The fetish itself is a cosmology,” you write, “the fantasy of another object in another world.” Your gloss is breathtaking and marks a turn in the text. And you double your point eloquently: the fetish, as another object in another world, is never attained, e.g. the War on Terror” is never won because terrorism is a fetish, as is democracy. Speaking of receding horizons, at the end of your piece there is a funny/upsetting snatch of dialogue in which “any anthology of women’s writing is going to fail” because it’s historical, remedial, a supplement–“another object in another world.” What kind of fetish is feminism?
CKC: You’re right, there are a lot of scary men in this poem, as a matter of fact they’re all a bit creepy, unless they’re being puppeted, like Leo Bloom or Spinoza.
There’s also a lot of different channels playing at the same time. As I mentioned, the piece is sort of meant to feel like channel-switching. In addition to the way I try to rip off television’s best qualities, I’m fascinated by the logic that governs our attention when we switch channels. I think the way we engage with multiple browser windows and multiple tv channels follows a poetic logic. When you’re in a deep tv-watching or internet-watching zone, the moves you make from channel to channel or page to page are governed by choices which draw on both our intuitive and rational motivations. If I could visualize how multi-tasking (allegedly my generation’s modus oprandi), writes itself on the brain, it would be discursive but not incoherent. Leaps from aesthteic object to object are made through metonymic association and relegated by time-constrained chance (for the television), or habit (for the internet). The aesthetic and informational objects we jump between leave a causal trail, whether or not we’d call these choices conscious.
Recently I heard this cognitive scientist saying that single-player shooter games like Call of Duty are actually better for the brain’s informational processing than multitasking of the sort I’m describing. So maybe, as a poet, I’m attracted to trying to describe or recreate the experience because it’s a totally empty act of curation, a waste of cognitive labor. It’s trying to be ambient in a more amped up, caffeinated, hungover way than, for instance, Tan Lin’s work, which has somewhat similar goals but is generally much more beautiful and well-wrought, less frustrating.
Speaking of CoD. I like what you pointed out about my choice of 2003 in terms of the invasion of Baghdad. I did think about those events as having a direct relation to the time period’s pervasive cultural affect of “(scr)e(a)mo,” but in terms of 9/11. I think the mood of that time, at least domestically, was adolescent, the frustrations more sulky than pragmatic. As you rightly point out, it was a time when realities were warped in the service of personal agendas, with its dissembling political posturing and manipulation of mass public emotions. The public performance of self-deception, in the corporate media and the government, was everywhere. In that sense, imagination ruled the nation! The politics in this piece are diced and mixed like everything else, and I appreciate your very cleverly teasing them out. The channel in the piece when I describe this script is meant to be in part an act of self-deflation, as the participant in a long-standing Joycean tradition of overladen, imitative narratives. The desire to contain history is as inevitably frustrated as the next imaginary desire, as said history is a malleable object, endowed with whatever qualities are most amenable to one’s own self-preservation. Perhaps the connection is that democracy is like all other fetishistic desires: the repetitive attempt to grasp the immaterial. Fuck it, the sigh of cerebral frustration, becomes Fuck me, insisting on the material body.
It’s important that 2003 was the year I started high school. I had a tough time adapting to the American suburbs, as I’d grown up largely outside the country, and having 9/11 and Iraq as a backdrop to my adolescence only increased the feeling of alienation. Maybe that’s the real reason the unholy alliance between Bright Eyes, Xiu Xiu, and George W. was forged in my brain.
Spinoza was also alienated from his peers; he was excommunicated from his synagoge. The rabbis of his community were way harsh, decreeing that "no one should communicate with him neither in writing nor accord him any favor nor stay with him under the same roof nor within four cubits in his vicinity; nor shall he read any treatise composed or written by him." So basically he was a social pariah. He moved to this little house where he worked as a lens grinder. Eventually he died from inhaling all the tiny shards of glass.
It’s not really clear why he was excommunicated, it’s generally assumed it was because of his writing, though the decree also refers to his intriguing “ monstrous deeds” and “evil ways.” Given this treatment, he was incredibly empathetic to the human tendency towards hubris, and miscommunication in his philosophy. I mention him as one of the men being puppeted here with affection. I love that guy.

I’d like to address your question about feminism by first making a clear distinction between feminism as a (admittedly fetishistic and utopian) politics, and the “female voice” which you mention in your first question. The latter is something I struggle with as, in your words, a “mere literary device,” which had already been incorporated into course syllabi and hegemonic discourse before I was born, yet hasn’t yet been supplanted by a better tactic for arguing one’s disenfranchisement at the level of the text. I’ll try to speak carefully here because I’m not a social scientist or a post-colonial scholar, and I usually skirt around talking about the politics of my work. It appears I’m already doing so though, so enough pussyfooting around. Feminism is a utopian fetish that I commit to materially, which is as close as I ever come to believing something’s real. I commit to it more so than I do to the fantasy of, say, democracy. That said, I don’t feel much affection for the last few decades’ discourse around identity politics. Nor do I feel totally comfortable with an orthodox Marxist analysis of gender inequality. I believe that all oppressive power structures rely upon the exclusion of the subaltern subject from public spaces of representation, be they economic, physical or yes, even aesthetic. This idea might be, probably is, a self-preserving idea, something I desire to believe from a position of privilege, and here we are again at vertigo. And then again, vertigo is the causal root of this belief: for me, feminism holds the utopian idea of escape from the hegemonic labyrinth, a false promise which is actually the subject of the book, and I’ve finally admitted it! This piece is a cruelly optimistic video game where I’m in the labyrinth trying to find a way out, running down every promising trail and hitting the same dead ends. It’s like, I know there’s really no chance of escape, but I need to believe the chance exists so that I’ll keep trying.

Cecilia K. Corrigan lives in New York. Her first book Titanic was awarded the Plonsker Prize, and will be published by & Now Books in 2014. Her current research interests include Alan Turing, immaturity, Ludwig Wittgenstein's adolescence, Alice James, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and therapeutic cosmetics. Her work has appeared in The Journal, Death and Life of American Cities, O'Clock Press, The Awl, The Nicola Midnight St. Claire, Glitterpony, and Emergency Index. She wrote for HBO's show Luck.