Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Johannes Göransson Interview: Question 7

RK: You referenced Sylvia Plath earlier. The poetry of her husband, Ted Hughes, especially his early and mid-career poetry, came to my mind as I read "With Deer." His poems are also filled with animals. Many of them ARE animals. Also, his language is grotesque--bent, twisted--and often shares with Berg a made-on-the-spot feel. But with Hughes I think you would say that there is a much greater element of the illusion of the control. That Hughes continues, through what are only just projections, to be a relatively cautious and conservative observer. Whereas, as you say in reading Berg, like moviegoers, we are enswarmed. Why do think so many of us, then, are so ready to be masochists? Are we bored? Are we fat and lazy in the shade? Are we, like you and me, (those who enjoy "With Deer" or similar poetry) just more sophisticated connoisseurs of a more sophisticated and literary version of the B-Movies you mentioned earlier? (The danger of shattering poetry is its very own shattering.) And if the time is ripe for lovers of poetry to be masochists then isn't there a clear and present danger (ha ha) for B-Poetry to flower, awash with gore and blood? (I haven't asked a question about Ted Hughes but if you'd like to comment on him and Berg that would be great. Or not.)

JG: Hughes believed in all kinds of Jungian stuff, that's a big difference, it has a higher meaning, an idealism behind it.

Yes, there's a danger of flowers blossoming in blood and gore. Anarchic pleasure.

And I guess we're just masochists.... The masochistic view of art acknowledges that we are not "rational" being; it relinquishes that "gaze of mastery." We cannot think our way out of our ideological house.

I would also say that the goal of poetry like this is not traditional lyric notion of poetry, which is not only to bring the speaker back whole at the end - in Slavoj Zizek's Lacanian terminology the real without the traumatic kernel of the Real, coffee without caffeine, laxatives that taste like chocolate, virtual reality, damage that doesn't damage - but also to do so within a "contemplative space". As Walter Benjamin points out in his famous essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Dada and Surrealism sought to "shock" or "distract" the reader out of that contemplative space. Often that "shock" is misread as the Hollywood shocking of giant sharks and such. But it's more of an electrical shock that charges you up and exhausts you. Breton said he felt "charged" from going to the movies with Jacques Vache. And I think Aase's poetry in many ways is a more extreme version of this kind of electric shock: to damage the reader out of his or her numbness. To charge us back to electricity. The "healing" can't start until after the fox-drubbing. The "healing" might be comparable to the exhaustion people reported after coming out of the movie theaters in the 1910s.

The paradox of the way I'm putting this is that the "aliveness" is the compulsive pleasure of jouissance that comes from the death-drive. To go back to Plath, her speaker is scared of opening the bee box because she senses the horrible pleasure of the contents, which is death.

Josh Corey has repeatedly argued on his blog that my poetry and the writings of various poets I like (Lara Glenum, Ariana Reines and others) display a lack of form that he finds himself longing wistfully for; he yearns for a more simple, direct art (like hurling feces at the windows of authority, I think he wrote). I wrote to him that what he is longing for is an idea of the unconscious: that there is all this violent sensation in his own unconscious that he has responsibly tamed with his formal training. But it is an extreme love of form that sends us out of the suburbs and into Dorothy Valens bedroom (to invoke David Lynch's "Blue Velvet"); there is an extreme formalism in Frank's recitation of 50s songs and his ether-breathing-machine. The jouissance comes out of a compulsive form. It is not freedom and artlessness Josh tries to restrain, it is obsessive form, death drive, jouissance.

Likewise there is a lot of talk about the ethical value of bringing people to poetry. Right now I fear that poetry is an instrument of restraining jouissance, of teaching people how to not be carried away, how to be less "artistic" not more. A bunch of Utopian thinking, really. And there can be no utopia if we want to be dead-alive. Modernist architecture is beautiful, but I feel like if I lived in a Modernist building I would have to stand perfectly still and have someone else come in to cut my hair. To shave it off. And to shave off my pubic hair. I would never die. I would always be a dead child.

The other counterpoint to this masochistic enjoyment in art is the 1960s idea of empowering the reader/spectator, of activating the audience. For example Fluxus art or any number of versions of happenings (though some of these were unabashedly masochistic and Artaud-influenced, Oyvind Fahlstrom is an interesting mash-up of the two). In writing, a bunch of texts that come in random order – the reader has to make the decision, has to arrange the chapters etc. (Also known ans choose your own adventure). In a twist similar to the one Zizek mentions about the the passion for the real turning into the spectacle of the real, this kind of art which aimed to activate the reader and be democratic becomes the most controlling: it wants not only to overwhelm the reader/audience, but to control its jouissance, to even control its physical movements (to force them to be "active" to turn the page, to join in the theater etc). Also, whenever I get invited to participate in these kinds of events I feel very awkward and self-conscious. Very manipulated. I prefer to sit back in the dark.

(to see the rest of the interview look in archives--dec 2008-- or, more easily, click on one of the labels, like Johannes Goransson, at the bottom of this post)

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