This brings me to the reasons for this online record, what I want to be a reading notebook of sorts. I used to review for various print publications, and it was a great way to be exposed to new writing and what was being published (and get small press books for free, which I can't afford because if I could I would buy all of these Action Books, and all of these Les Figues books, and all of the best small press books aren't available on fucking Ohio-Link). This year I reviewed Amina Cain's excellent strange and jet-laggy Les Figues title I Go To Some Hollow (should I click on a link to my review? I am unsure whether that's narcissistic) and a big personal discovery, Elsa Morante's Aracoeli, who is Moravia's wife, and was close intimates with Pasolini, and to my mind reads like an Italian Anna Kavan or Clarice Lispector, specifically The Hour of the Star, one of my favorite books of all time (although don't get me started how ill-informed and considered Lorrie Moore's NYRB article on Lispector's biography was, her informal poll of her bourgeois writer friends as to who had read Lispector, and most other reviews painted Lispector as a sex-craved hysterical vamp, not that there's anything wrong with being a sex-craved hysterical vamp, but they meant it in a bad way, and I hate biographies that psychologize, and most of all reviews of biographies that only linger on the surface stupid details, and I reviewed the bio of Jean Rhys for the Trib this year, and it was basically watered-down Rhys.)
Here's also a picture of Elsa Morante, who is now in my stable of bad-ass woman writers, like Jane Bowles.
Here's my favorite Rhys, when she started going out to clubs after Wide Sargasso Sea hit and wearing blue wigs:
OK. Here's vampy Jane as well.
This is my favorite picture of Jane looking so femme fatale and fuck-me. My favorite story of Jane Bowles is I think her being in Morocco (in Morocco? wouldn't it be in Paris?) and she was walking down an alley and she sees this totally creeping guy who seemed homeless and he asked her if she wanted to fuck. Or screw. Or I don't know what language was used. And she said no. Assumedly. Don't think JB was into the alley lays by virile forgotten men. But then the next day (or week, I'm terrible at narrative) she is with Paul, and she sees a picture in the newspaper, and it was of Henry Miller, and that was the guy who propositioned her in the alley. Ha! I love that story. And I'm reading Miller and completely reevaluating him, which I will get to in detail in an upcoming blog post. I have also read Guyotat's Prostitution, or the excerpt at least, translated, and that was supposed to be set in Morocco, but the translator (Bruce Benderson?) made it all LA-slum. Very strange. But Prostitution definitely reminds me of Miller and the Jane Bowles story. But I digress...(and this will all be in an upcoming post)
So anyway, I was reviewing regularly, but I became completely deadened with the destruction of the "I" in reviewing, and the ways that I had to write in this quasi-journalistic-objective language that I really had to kill years ago from my days in J-school (jerk-off school) and working as an alt-weekly journalist in the attempt to begin to try to free myself to write interesting texts. Dodie Bellamy says this way better than I could, and I'm probably just cribbing from her, in her mind-blowing Barf Manifesto (pub. by Ugly Duckling in a little letterpress edition), which besides Ecce Homo is the other revolutionary manifesto I read this year. The text ostensibly begins as a paper delivered for an MLA panel on an Eileen Myles essay called "Everyday Barf," but then revolves into a sort of memoir about her relationship with Myles, and their mothers, and an analysis of the deadening objectivity of the third-person review (I am borrowing from Bellamy's language, I am sure), and the alienation of having to take chaos and put some highly toned artificial neat form to it, and Bellamy is calling for writing that is vomitous, that is chaotic. She is decrying the "oppressiveness" of the essay form. And I think it's one of the reasons I wanted to start this blog. Even though I taught creative nonfiction (a term I still have issues with) at Columbia College with the truly inspiring David Lazar as department head, I just don't fit into the lyric essay camp that is vanguarded by D'Agata, Lazar, Boully, and others, and written so marvelously and so well by them and others.
Here's Bellamy saying it better than me rewording it:
The essay is a form I've always found oppressive, a form so conservative it begs to be dismantled. In the San Francisco avant garde feminist poetic circle of the early 80s, a sort of patchwork personal essay was de regueur. The feminist poetic essay was riddled with collaged texts and vulnerability. It switched person at will, "I" flipping to "she," inside magically flipping to outside, and back again. I didn't know what to make of all these anti-logocentric Theresa Cha/Cixous/Irigaray inspired poetic prose things, spastically shifting and disrupting before my eyes with no apparent rhyme or reason. 80s avant garde feminism produced lots of self-indulgent, slopping work, but still it was exciting - and important - to undermine the patriarchal hegemony that created the MLA Style Sheet. Around the same time I discovered Kathy Acker, who in some novel had a character shit on a priest's altar - which I'm sure she got from Bataille. Even thugh desecrating Catholic icons is so old school, has been done to death, the zeal with which Acker does it is infectious. Passion in writing or art - or in a lover - can make you overlook a lot of flaws. Passion is underrated. I think we should all produce work with the urgency of outsider artists, panting and jerking off to our kinky private obsessions. Sophistication is conformist, deadening. Let's get rid of it.
I love that last bit when she's talking about outsider artists, which is really how I (self) identify, although I have problems with the term, which is all about capitalist institutional bullshit. But I cling to writing that is illegitimate, that is the product of a disordered mind, that is frantic, frenetic, self-taught. And she performs what she's writing about in the essay. It's marvelous. Her paragraphs begin to become pages long without taking breaths, her sentences just start going AWOL, building into this glittering, orgasmic, orgy. When she writes "The Barf is feminist, unruly, cheerfully monstrous" it reminds me of Jack Smith mandating to GLAMORIZE YOUR MESSES and for one project I had that quote on my bulletin board but unfortunately the project is still a mess, and not a good mess. And this also connects I think with Vanessa Place talking about the need for failure in conceptual writing (her Notes on Conceptualisms would be the third revolutionary manifesto if I had it in hand, it's on my list), and the best panel that I attended at &Now was her panel on failure with Anna Joy Springer and Michael DuPlessis and someone else, and it's something I can really get into, the idea of failing, of messiness, of chaos. So much writing now is neat and manicured and poetic and zen-like as a bonsai tree. And there's a need for that, but I like great big goopy crazy collages, and unneat writing, destructive writing, disordered writing, anarchic writing. I guess it's a rebellion from writing within the lines in Catholic school. (Most) of my writing is messy and chaotic and disordered, and that tends to be the writing that I cling to as well, texts by Bellamy and Vanessa Place and Chris Kraus and Lidia Yuknavitch and Bhanu Khapil, to cite contemporary American examples. Actually a book I read this year was Les Figues' Feminaissance, edited by Christine Wertheim, and contains work by most of these writers, and interrogates this notion of what is feminine writing if identity politics is kind of passé?
Not that I'm not inspired by Cha or Cixous. I am, very much, especially Cixous, especially her writings on feminine writing, outsider and criminal texts, what she terms La Genet ( I read and reread this year her "Sorties" in The Newly Born Woman as well as her dialogue with Catherine Clement in the text, I love when they snip at each other about their relationship to Freud's hysterics.) And I fucking loved Cixous' recent memoir-texts recently published by Northwestern University Press (I believe I reviewed Reveries of the Wild Woman for Rain Taxi). But to me Cixous is not manicured, she is wild and unfettered, and that's what I love her. And I love how her examples of l'écriture féminine incorporate as many born-male as born-female examples, not only Lispector and Ingeborg Bachmann, but also Kafka and Bernhard (and of those four three are authors of three of my all-time favorite texts, The Hour of the Star, Malina, and Extinction. I am committed to reading more Bernhard this year, as I am kept alive by his surgings of hate towards the bourgeois family, which reminds me of Gass' line "I write because I hate. Hard." Bernhard is obligatory reading after the deadening holidays, in fact.) I am like this with the authors I love, I claim my favorite male authors as female, or feminine. Genet, obviously, Cixous did that, but also Rilke to me is a female author (his mother did name him Rene Maria), and Fernando Pessoa is a female author, Artaud is female. It's not reverse sexism, it's just a game of genderbending I play in my head.
But...anyway....I don't think Cixous is a fair example of abstract feminist poetics. In fact, her "Laugh of the Medusa" is the ancestor to Dodie Bellamy's "Barf Manifesto," and both have the rhythm of jerking off to orgasm. I had this line from "Laugh of the Medusa" on my bulletin board forever, as a way to cheer me up when I was writing in isolation for so long and getting nothing but rejection from the outside world.
Write, let no one hold you back, let nothing stop you: not man; not the imbecilic capitalist machinery, in which the publishing houses are the crafty, obsequious relayers of imperatives handed down by an economy that works against us and off our backs; not yourself. Smug-faced readers, managing editors, and big bosses don't like the true texts of women- female-sexed texts. That kind scares them.
Yeah! I fucking love that. Such a rallying cry. But Bellamy's critique of Cha's poetics is accurate I think, or I feel the same response from writing like that. Although, Dictee is a very important text for me, in that I'm quite inspired by what she does in telling these different women's stories, her mother, her ancestors, different renegade Korean warrior women, the Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc, which is a film that I have managed to pay homage to in almost every single text I've ever written, in fact my mother-text Book of Mutter is a sort of messy, chaotic, sprawling kind of Dictee, and Joan of Arc and Renee Falconetti are major figures in the text, and I even quote from Dictee by posting the same image of Falconetti that Cha uses:
i don't know if this is the right one.But I am intimidated by Dictee, its poetics. Maybe I'm a bad reader. Sometimes I'm convinced I'm a bad reader! I like to savor texts and sometimes don't have the language in which to describe them. But I was supposed to write an essay on the text for the Poetry Foundation this year, and I totally bailed on it. I couldn't bring myself to claim I was an expert on the text in any way, even though I savored it and so many passages burnt an image on my brain, and were so inerasable to me. But Juliana Spahr has already written quite powerfully on the text, as has Ed Park, in the new University of California press edition of some of her performative and art text and poems. Anyway. One of my biggest flaws as a reader is that I'm too in love with the anecdotal - I am awash in the anecdotal. I like the gossip behind literature. It's terrible. Like with Cha my image in my head is her being stabbed on the streets of Paris (was it Paris? in my mind it was Paris.) Her death like her Joan of Arc, this tragic felling so young. And I wonder what she would be writing now, working on now, if she had lived.
But this year I went to a panel at the Drawing Center on biography, centered around an exhibit by Hans Bellmer's muse Unica Zürn (more anecdotal - those photographs of her being bound in crazy S/M poses, the basis for Bellmer's poupees, her writing about her suicide in Dark Spring, and then executing her suicide in the same way, which reminds me of Ann Quin writing about drowning in Three and then drowning). The panel was mostly quite disappointing (one big-time art historian person said that she would never write a biography of someone who had committed suicide because she thought it would be too depressing and she kind of shivered when she said that which made me want to punch her in the face, in my opinion actually some of the most interesting people have committed suicide! like Gilles Deleuze! and this is obviously someone who has never really contemplated existence so I'm assuming her biographies are crap and anyway I hate traditional biographies! I rebel against biographies!) but there was this expert on outsider art who did say some interesting things about how "outsider" artists are pathologized, and then there was the glorious Wayne Koestenbaum, whose Hotel Theory I fucking adored, this crazy bifurcated book half an essay on hotels in literature, bringing up some of my favorite women, like Colette and Jean Rhys, and then half a crazy pulp novel starring Lana Turner and Liberace, and Koestenbaum said that he always searched for the "illuminating anecdote." And I liked that. Speaking of which! When I reviewed Aracoeli (in a really cool new edition by Open Letter, who is doing such interesting stuff) I was really hung up on her relationship with Pasolini. For every neat little block of a review I always tried to include one fact I thought was really interesting. Mostly for me. Like when I wrote about Claude Cahun's Disavowals (another ur-text for me) I had to include the part that her and Marcel Moore chose to stay on the island of Jersey and distributed these poetic anti-war tracts in the pockets of Nazi soldiers. I love that. And for Morante I am fascinated that she had this blow-out with Pasolini, and they stopped speaking to each other, and then a year later he was murdered on the beach. I love that grisly detail. And I *know* I wrote in the above that I hate biographies and reviews that focus on the psychological, surface detail, especially when they pertain to women writers, because I think it's really about the cult of the personality, which is essentially problematic, and I think simplistically psychologizing which biographies are so wont to do is really problematic, and dangerous, especially when dealing with complicated women who just by being writers at a certain time and age were labelled as noncomformist, or worse, hysterical or ill or crazy, and I think branding these women as femme fatales is all so often done. And I know in a way I'm contributing to this by posting their bad-ass photos, except hopefully I am humanizing them and thinking of them as complicated selves and intellects AND CELEBRATING THEM AS WRITERS as opposed to straight-up objectifying. One particular review long ago in Poetry that really got my goat was when Brian Phillips used Gertrude Stein's line about Djuna Barnes having nice ankles as an opener in a review of her poetry, and to my mind it was meant to be entirely dismissive, as of course, Stein was being as well. Stein was many important revolutionary things to literature, but a champion of her fellow women writers she was not. They published my letter, but then let the guy write a reply and scurry to the library and actually read Nightwood, one of my all-time, all-times, and Francis Bacon's too, there's another anecdote. And it's burned in my brain his response, which was as dismissive and bourgeois as the review. I don't remember the exact wordage, but he concluded by summing up that Djuna Barnes was a minor writer. Well, fuck a duck, as Henry Miller would say. And that is how the canon gets made.
Sorry for all of the vomit for my very first post, but maybe that's a good thing! In the upcoming posts I promise to write about Artaud, literary pornography, such as Sade and Henry Miller, why I like art about horrible human atrocities, and reviews of books I've read this year. And also about why I named the blog Frances Farmer Is My Sister, which I could write about now, as it would be very appropriate in context with Koestenbaum and Hotel Theory, and Cixous! but I'm tired.