February 26, 2009

The Kiss-Off, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Decline of the Aura

after "Andy & Patty"

1.  Art is Honkies Fucking

The pedigree of the kiss in Western culture is less a matter of sex than of Christianity.  Spirit is breath, it utters the sacred word.  The early believers were enjoined to bestow on each other the kiss of peace.  Blasphemy is the sacred’s inversion:  the Judas kiss.   

The kiss started to become secularized around the time of the troubadours.  The fair skin of the beloved was a foreglimpse of the pleroma; through her lips poured the divine afflatus.  Soon most of the afflatus had leaked out, but there was still enough left to puff the white sails of religion’s successor, romantic love. 

By the time of the really iconographic kisses – Rodin, Klimt, Munch – many had begun to suspect that romantic love was a con.  Schopenhauer and Darwin had given the hint:  It was all about replenishing the racial stock.  Hence the three most famous kisses of the time were also the most equivocal – too strenuous, or too brittle, or vampiric. 

Along came Hollywood and pop music to re-inflate the tires.  It wasn’t just a question of warm bodies after all, a whole society had to be reproduced.  Rhett!  Scarlett!  Rhett!  Scarlett!  Some crooning, some swooning – then the Lent of mortgage payments, a new refrigerator, and picking a wallpaper pattern for the nursery.

The flowery script on the warranty said Forever but it wasn’t until Pop Art that we were able to appreciate the irony.  Warhol’s Kiss (1963) would seem to spell the quietus est for twenty centuries of honkies fucking in frescoes and framed museum pieces.  But instead we have a culture in the grip of cynical reason:  I can’t stand to walk away . . . I can’t stand to stay . . . a generic pop tune in endless playback. 

Fin.  Repeat.


2.  Art is Fucking Honkies

Traditionally the kiss symbolizes union.  In the mingling of breaths, two souls meet and become one.  Art, too, is supposed to resolve contradictions.  It creates a unity that is “above” its determinations. 

“Andy & Patty” refuses this harmonization, staging instead the disarticulation, the incommensurability of the very materials it brings together.  They are not melded, only superimposed.  Each new frame reframes the others.

The appearance of writing in a film destroys the unity of the image.  So far so Godard, but the filmsong’s writing goes further, deploying the rhetorical figure of chiasmus:

Art is Honkies Fucking

Art is Fucking Honkies

Fucking is Art, Honkies

Chiasmus is the privileged trope of difference, of the production of difference-in-identity.  It is the double-cross that undoes the self, in the same movement founding and confounding it.  In this case, the universalist pretensions of Art are revealed to be a European narcissism, honkies pressing faces to the mirror.   

The filmsong is chiastic in its very structure, almost an elaborate pun on the inverted parallelism of chiasmus itself.  It opens with the straight couple from Warhol’s film but works its way to the mash-mouth of Warhol’s gay couple and a scene of two-fisted interracial monster-cock deep throating.  Sexual difference and racial difference – ideological coordinates of the Great White Kiss. 

In the era of cynical reason, however, nothing any longer has the power to shock, it’s all grist for the mill of social reproduction.  Since Patty Hearst’s turn as “Tanya” even terrorism has become part of the spectacle.  The only image to resist the tidal pull of banality is what would seem to be the most ordinary and everyday of them all, almost beneath notice:  the scaffolding against the side of the building.

In the Greek alphabet the letter “chi” – the first letter in the name of Christ – is shaped like an X, a cross.  For this reason chiasmus was once the favored trope of Christian writers.  The scaffolding’s props and crossbeams also suggest a kind of Calvary.  The two workmen arrive for their daily crucifixion.

The filmsong offers a chiastic pun on images of labor – labor as work, and childbirth as labor.  These were, after all, the curses stamped on Adam and Eve’s eviction notice:  In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread . . . In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.”  I almost said Andy and Patty’s eviction notice.

The image of childbirth avoids the banal affirmation of “new beginnings” to the extent that it is by caesarian section.  Instead it is a parody of the Virgin Birth.  We see a gaping wound, there will be a scar. 

Every document of civilization has as its verso a transcript of toil, written in scars.  The same with love:  there was always someone before you.  It’s as if our kissing couple should separate for a moment and one – it doesn’t matter which – should say to the other, “Whose cock is that on your breath?”

3.  Fucking is Art, Honkies 

Astrolabe, centrifuge, one-armed bandit – the Andy & Patty chiasmus-machine keeps turning.  Old binaries undone, their tokens may yet yield up an unforeseen combination or novel precipitate.  The one moment when a pair of eyes looks back at the viewer is in the clip of the blond porn-actress at work.  Like much women’s work, it must be performed on her knees.  With her hands raised to the sides of her head on the mahogany crossbeams of enormous cocks, it is another image of crucifixion.  Yet covered in sweat and spit and goo, her hair plastered and mascara smeared, she glistens as wetly as a newborn.  And look at the technique, the brio, the sprezzatura – she is good at what she does, and she knows it.  Colors mix on the palette.  A new millennium of poetry and fucking is in store for those who can divine this threefold mystery. All others pay cash. 

February 17, 2009

February 13, 2009

Closky Redux, Closky Radix

Cliquez ici (2001) - Claude Closky

I realize I am not done with Claude Closky’s “The First Thousand Numbers Classified in Alphabetical Order,” which I excerpted in my last post.  Or rather, it is not done with me.  With the repetitive insistence of an autistic it demands that I try to explain its effect on me, to plumb – or if that depth-model won’t work, then at least to enumerate – the sources of its delight. 

In it—  But what is it?  A poem?  A prose poem?  A “conceptual” poem?  A “piece”?  A piece of “conceptual art”?  Is it art?  Whatever we choose to call it will make us look at the designation itself in a new way; it reclassifies its own classification. 

In it, our two most fundamental ordering systems meet, and each translates the other.  The quantitative and rationalized system meets the qualitative and conventionalized system.  Is it a clash? A correspondence? A collaboration? Is it a dissonance or a consonance?  Certainly it seems more Classical than Romantic; it is witty rather than strenuous, cool to the touch, with a Mozartian lightness . . . it tickles, but it troubles as well . . .  

It begins—  But should I use quotation marks when I reproduce parts of it?  Can it really be “quoted” in any meaningful sense?  How do notions of authorship apply to it?  Can it be plagiarized?   

It begins, “Eight, eight hundred, eight hundred and eight, eight hundred and eighteen, eight hundred and eighty, eight hundred and eighty-eight . . .”

A split-second of perplexity is followed by delighted clarity as we see that the first number in the alphabetized sequence is not one but eight.  Can it really be that “e” comes first?  Are there really no numbers that begin with a, b, c, or d?  Suddenly it seems strange, even a little . . . unnatural.  We’re like children again, or almost, counting on our mental fingers if not our physical ones and running through strings of alphabet, just to cross-check and verify.  But no, it’s correct, “eight” comes first.

As we advance through the eight hundreds we think we can sense a pattern emerging.  But it’s all thrown off the minute we go from the Es to the Fs; the pattern does not repeat.  We had semi-consciously primed ourselves to expect five, five hundred, five hundred and five, and so forth, but instead we’re given “fifteen, fifty, fifty-eight, fifty-five, fifty-four,” etc. 

This is severe and straitened parataxis, and it throws our operations of connection-making, of conjoining one thing to the next, into stark relief.  At every turn we find our ingrained reflexes – the habits of long conditioning – exposed.  In this world, five comes before four.  What next?  Will two and two finally make five?  We feel the echo of something primordial, revisiting in brief but vivid flashes the tediums and pleasures of our first efforts at mastering these systems, so long ago.  Is this what it is like to be recovering from a stroke? 

Repeat anything enough times and the vertigo of nonsense threatens.  It starts happening in the nines.  We think we must be getting close to the end – it’s but a skip and a jump from nine hundred and ninety to a thousand, after all – but a glance ahead chills us:  we’re not even quite halfway there.  And the repetition is turning everything to gobbledygook; sign and sound delink, the letters of these numbers stop adding up to a sum of sensible words.  Nine hundred, ninety, nine . . .  nigh-un, nigh-un. . . nyah, nyah, nyah.  Are we even being mocked?  Have our two most foundational systems of ordering been brought together only to produce disorder?  A moment ago we were revisiting our childhoods – are we now being thrown back into the original chaos?

But suddenly the nonsensical nines give way to a new term, and we're saved – “ninety-seven, ninety-six, ninety-three, ninety-two, one” (emphasis mine).  A reprieve!  It’s an inspired moment, sublime and simple - and simply funny - at the same time.  One!  The long march continues (or has it started over?), but we’re renewed.  We even manage to convince ourselves that we now have a firmer grasp on the true order of the thing. 

Our base 10 or decimal number system, written in words rather than numerals, gives us One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, and Ten.  Only six letters from the alphabet are used as initial letters, however:  O, T, F, S, E, and N, which in alphabetical order gives us E, F, N, O, S, and T.  In the land of Efnost, it makes perfect sense that one comes after nine.  The fact that the sequence will end with the Ts feels almost like a homecoming, so quickly are we acclimating. 

But no, the sequence still has the power to expose and defy our ingrained expectations – and therefore to delight us as well.  Ten must yield to the three hundreds, and only when these have exhausted all their permutations are we ushered into the home stretch of the terrible twos:  “two hundred and twenty-three, two hundred and twenty-two, two hundred and two.” 

What a lovely touch, to end with that echoing "two."  An allusion to the two ordering systems themselves, numbers and the alphabet?  "Two" suggests balance and therefore stasis, but it is also pregnant with the dynamism of relationship, as if new sequences might, at any moment, start spooling themselves out.  Binary systems, mitosis, ones and zeroes . . .

Closky’s “The First Thousand Numbers Classified in Alphabetical Order” takes us through something that feels very modern and very ancient at the same time.  In terms of its richness and complexity, it can stand with seminal works of modernism such as Eliot’s “Prufrock,” or for that matter with the works of the metaphysical poets that Eliot admired.  With its beguiling simplicity and symmetry, however, the piece can just as easily stand with the works of minimalist composers such as Phillip Glass and Michael Nyman, or even with the baroque-era works of J.S. Bach.  But in the next instant Closky’s piece rebuffs such comparisons; it is a shiny provocation like Jeff Koons’s statues of balloon animals or his brilliant, incisive Michael Jackson and Bubbles.  But no, surely it is more like something scored into a tablet of clay on the banks of the Euphrates.  On the other hand— 

February 11, 2009

A Closky Interval

Untitled (Nasdaq wallpaper) - Claude Closky 

The First Thousand Numbers Classified in Alphabetical Order, by Claude Closky (1989)

Eight, eight hundred, eight hundred and eight, eight hundred and eighteen, eight hundred and eighty, eight hundred and eighty-eight, eight hundred and eighty-five, eight hundred and eighty-four, eight hundred and eighty-nine, eight hundred and eighty-one, eight hundred and eighty-seven, eight hundred and eighty-six, eight hundred and eighty-three, eight hundred and eighty-two, eight hundred and eleven, eight hundred and fifteen, eight hundred and fifty, eight hundred and fifty-eight, eight hundred and fifty-five, eight hundred and fifty-four, eight hundred and fifty-nine, eight hundred and fifty-one, eight hundred and fifty-seven, eight hundred and fifty-six, eight hundred and fifty-three, eight hundred and fifty-two, eight hundred and five, eight hundred and forty, eight hundred and forty-eight, eight hundred and forty-five, eight hundred and forty-four, eight hundred and forty-nine, eight hundred and forty-one, eight hundred and forty-seven, eight hundred and forty-six, eight hundred and forty-three, eight hundred and forty-two, eight hundred and four, eight hundred and fourteen, eight hundred and nine, eight hundred and nineteen, eight hundred and ninety, eight hundred and ninety-eight, eight hundred and ninety-five, eight hundred and ninety-four, eight hundred and ninety-nine, eight hundred and ninety-one, eight hundred and ninety-seven, eight hundred and ninety-six, eight hundred and ninety-three, eight hundred and ninety-two, eight hundred and one, eight hundred and seven, eight hundred and seventeen, eight hundred and seventy, eight hundred and seventy-eight, eight hundred and seventy-five, eight hundred and seventy-four, eight hundred and seventy-nine, eight hundred and seventy-one, eight hundred and seventy-seven, eight hundred and seventy-six, eight hundred and seventy-three, eight hundred and seventy-two, eight hundred and six, eight hundred and sixteen, eight hundred and sixty, eight hundred and sixty-eight, eight hundred and sixty-five, eight hundred and sixty-four, eight hundred and sixty-nine, eight hundred and sixty-one, eight hundred and sixty-seven, eight hundred and sixty-six, eight hundred and sixty-three, eight hundred and sixty-two, eight hundred and ten, eight hundred and thirteen, eight hundred and thirty, eight hundred and thirty-eight, eight hundred and thirty-five, eight hundred and thirty-four, eight hundred and thirty-nine, eight hundred and thirty-one, eight hundred and thirty-seven, eight hundred and thirty-six, eight hundred and thirty-three, eight hundred and thirty-two, eight hundred and three, eight hundred and twelve, eight hundred and twenty, eight hundred and twenty-eight, eight hundred and twenty-five, eight hundred and twenty-four, eight hundred and twenty-nine, eight hundred and twenty-one, eight hundred and twenty-seven, eight hundred and twenty-six, eight hundred and twenty-three, eight hundred and twenty-two, eight hundred and two, eighteen, eighty, eighty-eight, eighty-five, eighty-four, eighty-nine, eighty-one, eighty-seven, eighty-six, eighty-three, eighty-two, eleven, fifteen, fifty, fifty-eight, fifty-five, fifty-four, fifty-nine, fifty-one, fifty-seven, fifty-six, fifty-three, fifty-two, five, five hundred, five hundred and eight, five hundred and eighteen, five hundred and eighty, five hundred and eighty-eight, five hundred and eighty-five, five hundred and eighty-four, five hundred and eighty-nine, five hundred and eighty-one, five hundred and eighty-seven, five hundred and eighty-six, five hundred and eighty-three, five hundred and eighty-two, five hundred and eleven, five hundred and fifteen, five hundred and fifty, five hundred and fifty-eight, five hundred and fifty-five, five hundred and fifty-four, five hundred and fifty-nine, five hundred and fifty-one, five hundred and fifty-seven, five hundred and fifty-six, five hundred and fifty-three, five hundred and fifty-two, five hundred and five, five hundred and forty, five hundred and forty-eight, five hundred and forty-five, five hundred and forty-four, five hundred and forty-nine, five hundred and forty-one, five hundred and forty-seven, five hundred and forty-six, five hundred and forty-three, five hundred and forty-two, five hundred and four, five hundred and fourteen, five hundred and nine, five hundred and nineteen, five hundred and ninety, five hundred and ninety-eight, five hundred and ninety-five . . .


Just an excerpt, to give you an idea.  Full here, and Closky’s website here.  Conceptualism in its chemically-pure form will get you high every time.  Try it.  Beats “literary fiction” any day.