Monk Poem


I meet my particular hell
among the fraudulent monks
in Times Square
selling their gold-paper wares.

A saxophone blares.
The moon is mooning us
– you, I –
perfect shot for reticence’s last call.

Maroon this mood.
It is a snail-plain mood
on a knoll.

Or does the moon knee the sky
right in the groin
knocking out the lights?

I’m no terrorist
I’m an outlaw, not a thief.

Steal away little outlaw
little monk
golden goods are no trade for a snail-plain moon,
its Buddha knees spread wide.

Very recent internet history

I spent most of my leisure time today reading about 2008-era Gawker and now I have a whole new bookmarks folder dedicated to very recent internet history, most of which involves Gawker and its satellites (The Awl, New York Observer, n+1, smaller blogs like Young Manhattanite and TMFTML, etc.). Gawker’s such a content farm it’s almost a pointless exercise to limit myself to particular blogs. For example, should Buzzfeed be considered a Gawker satellite? What about Rolling Stone? No, but certainly alumni work for both publications. Anyway. What I’ve realized is 1) I know jack shit, 2) everyone, literally everyone is connected (the guy from pitchforkreviewsreviews wrote on the Awl about Young Manhattanite??), and 3) pretty much everyone who’s successful thought of themselves as an outsider five or six years ago, and maybe still does. That last point I bring up, not to edify myself as a prospective future “success story” — I mean, it’s possible, but all signs point to No – but to remind myself that just because I’m cranky about cronyism doesn’t mean I’m insightful or immune to it. It also reminds me of that tired plot point on Girls S3 where Hannah quits her advertorial job to pursue a “serious” writing career. I don’t think that storyline was well done, but now I have a better idea of what it was trying to say: everyone has a dismal “New York moment.”

“I love me enough for the both of us”

I’m reading Philippe Lejeune’s On Diary and it’s so precise, thorough, interrogative, simple, and entertaining, I’m just over the moon. I’m not big into the fetishization of books; to me, it’s the information inside them that matters, and if I evangelize for hard copy it’s only out of concern for the presently available technologies re: archives and marginalia. But this book is beautiful: clean, supple, the binding just big enough to be flipped through with a satisfying thwack. It’d better be, I had to order it special from the Strand Warehouse, and even that was a gamble, since my local academic bookstore said it was out of stock. But wow, there are just so many wonderful things to pore over in this book, and I’m finding myself revved up and thinking a million miles a minute.

Here’s something that hit me in the gut. It’s from a 17th-century Sulpician mystic, Marie Rousseau, whose diaries take up thousands of pages and have been read in entirety by no one but Marie and her two transcribers.

But on the subject of this strength, since I told him that I was too weak of body to serve him, and especially too weak of lung to preach him he replied I will give you twice the strength and a double lung I did not understand that word and it was understood that he would strengthen my lung, not only to preach him but also to love and to bear the effects of his love which are often severe and impair one without the mercy of GOD. (Lejeune, 74; emphasis hers).

Almost any old thing sounds poetic if its language is outdated enough, but I love this text’s turns. “Double lung” is phonetically beautiful in English and, maybe because it was written around the same time — this particular entry is from 1642 — it reminds me of the equally mystic Weird Sisters’ Double double… (you know the rest). But it’s more than that: it’s the lung that sucks and expels, it’s the idea that love can be harder to receive than to give, that it’s the organ of breath instead of blood that reifies feeling, and the Bersanian insight that penetration demands strength, too. That’s a lesson I’m learning now, one I didn’t know I had to learn. I remember in January, when I was still a mess, attending a birthday party, feeling my friends’ love for me and not knowing what to do with it. I told my therapist that it was like a gift given to the wrong person. Partially, that’s because I worried I had been deceiving my friends about who I was, so of course their love couldn’t strike its intended target; but also, it’s because it’s disarming to feel love when one goes through life as though tightening a braid.


More thoughts on “problematic”

My essay on “problematic” is still unpublished, but in the mean time I have something to add to it. First off, I should specify that I wrote the essay in response to Joseph Staten’s presentation at Theorizing The Web. Staten argues that thinkpieces critique pop culture’s ethics in order to obscure pop culture’s aesthetic qualifications. The thinkpiece asks “is it problematic?” to art criticism’s “is it good?”

That all reminded me of this little nugget from David Antoine-Williams’ Defending Poetry, which I haven’t read, but found in excerpt form on Chris Fenwick’s blog. (Sidenote: I do not know Chris but apparently he spent some time at the University of Chicago, my alma mater. I found his wordpress after reading his excellent response to How Should A Person Be? in The Point.) Anyway, here’s the graf in question:

The vocabulary of the ‘other’ comes to replace that of objective and eternal truths, but the basic position is the same: that mimesis fails on its own account to represent accurately, or faithfully, or ethically; that the aesthetic sense of ‘representation’ exists in permanent tension with its democratic sense. As it was for Plato, the preferred method of inquiry for practitioners of theory is not the aesthetic but the rational theoretical mode, which they call ‘critique’. It is only when paired with the continuous critique of texts, with the constant deconstructing of them and disclosing of their inscribed violence to the other, that these texts can be permitted on political grounds. Understood this way, the ethical value of literature is realized negatively in the exposing of its own natural corrupting force, the uncovering of the self’s ineluctable tendency to subsume the other.
– David-Antoine Williams, Defending Poetry: Art and Ethics in Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney, and Geoffrey Hill (Oxford: OUP, 2010), p.9. Emphasis mine.

To put it less elegantly: literature is bad at representing more than one POV, and so is palatable politically only when we lay its other-swallowing machinations bare. This reminds me of Harold Bloom’s roughshod critique of poststructuralists as apologists– as though apology and artistry were necessarily in conflict. Whether in the thinkpiece or academic criticism, the thread adjoining democratic to aesthetic representation is long but frayed.

At the NYPL…

I went to two different branches of the NYPL in a quest for books on “gift shop pedagogy” today. First stop was the Stephen A. Schwartzman building. I was there a couple weeks ago for the wifi’s database access but today was the first time since high school that I was in the stomach of the building up on the third floor. Everything is marble and gilded, which is how I remembered it, but the only open reading room is different, mousier. It’s how I would imagine a train conductor’s office. I like this office because it’s like a Chinese box. Everything in the building is hard and intimidatingly empty, but this room is small, moist, and dark. I think its ceiling is lower. There are special forms housed in special wooden boxes and the walls are all cabinets with rungs to hold the books in. It feels like the room was designed for a set of paper technologies no longer strictly required and maintained only to justify the wooden shelves, balls of rubber bands, and tiny desk organizers.

I waited for the books to arrive by browsing Instagram, which I never do. I checked in on the people I’ve been avoiding learned things I didn’t want to learn. I saw a photograph of me in a red scarf with my head down. I pushed the bad news photograph out of my mind by reading Catullus, and when my half hour was up and my books still weren’t there, I left.

Then I went to the science and industry library, which is a research library proper with microfiche stations and everything. You have to play the same game with library employees getting the books for you, but they’re much faster. I requested three volumes of “Souvenirs, Novelties & Gifts,” a trade publication, from 1998-2003, plus a couple reference materials about starting your own gift shop business and how to run a religious gift shop. The religious manual had tabs and three hole punches built in, which I liked. The trade publication was on magazine paper and was the shape and size of a Christian bible. I found a couple funny ads in the 1998 volume (cross posted on twitter).

rose panties

“An artificial rose, the bud of which consists of a pair of women’s panties”

cigar plushie

It’s not poop


The junk in gift shops doesn’t make me nostalgic, exactly, but it’s a good yardstick for how much things have changed. I found Beanie Babies, customizable beaded bracelets, plastic men on toilets that made tinny fart noises, Austin Powers incense, retro Budweiser signs, talking and singing bass, cookie scented candles, boxers with bright, italic flames, dollar bills with smiling George Bushes, dolphins, Cherokee reproductions, tie dye colored pencils, and — this one surprised me, but I ached for it — knobby wooden walking sticks. The feeling reminded me of that ache I get when I see photos of the loop in Chicago. Whenever I was in the loop it was because I was coming or going home and wanted to lose weight or was walking long distances and trying to lose weight. I was always hungry to the point of faintness in the loop. But I still miss it, I miss being cold and hungry and physically alone in a city that I was determined would be better than New York. I’m not very good at processing change. I’m angry that you can only know what a time (a situation, a place, a time) feels like in retrospect. I don’t know if that’s just a fact of life or if that’s what happens if you’re bad at processing your feelings in the moment, which I am. I want to be able to walk into a gift shop in 2014 and say, “This– this here is what’s happening now and in ten years I’ll go, ‘Whoa, that really brings me back.'” I think you can only really do that with children’s toys and hairstyles.