Forgetting Clouds

by W.S. MERWIN

The quiet morning has a few cloud friends
that are gone when I look for them again
in this one summer to which I have come
after everything that I remember
what can I call it before it has gone
it does not hear me and does not know me
it passes without seeing I am here
it is only me going my own way
there is no one else who can forget it

I read this in The New Yorker this week. OBVIOUSLY Merwin is a genius, that’s not news– but what a perfect little poem! I like the slant rhymes, all the monosyllables, and the ambiguity of “after everything that I remember,” syntactically enjambed between “I have come” and “what can I call it.” It’ll be 40 years before I learn how to write a good poem this simple.

Why I’m uncomfortable with feminism

Ha! That’s a misleading title. It’s not like there’s only one feminism. I guess what I mean more specifically is the strand of feminism (I don’t think it’s acute enough to have a name) which I addressed in my January blog post on the political efficacy of shame. Specifically, the way I feel alienated by feminists who criticize books like Portnoy’s Complaint as “a pile of kleenex.” Because who’s to say that my desire can’t work the same way Roth’s does?

Actually, on re-reading that article now (a sample from N+1′s No Regrets) I’m struck by how much more nuanced the conversation is than I originally read it to be. Emily Gould flat-out stands up for Roth. I don’t know how I missed that the first time around– I guess I was angry. But that school of thought still exists and I’d like to respond to it. I like dwelling in my shame, and even though I’m only 23 and not very confident that I have the right answers, I’d still like to figure out why I’m so attached to the maybe-true myth of shame as political motor.

Anyway, I’m reading “A Cyborg Manifesto” in full for the first time now, and this passage stood out to me as a good articulation of my problem with so many contemporary feminisms:

One of the effects of [Catherine] MacKinnon’s theory is the rewriting of the history of the polymorphous field called radical feminism. The major effect is the production of a theory of experience, of women’s identity, that is a kind of apocalypse for all revolutionary standpoints. That is, the totalization built into this tale of radical feminism achieves its end — the unity of women — by enforcing the experience of and testimony to radical non-being. As for the Marxist/socialist feminist, consciousness is an achievement, not a natural fact. And MacKinnon’s theory eliminates some of the difficulties built into humanist revolutionary subjects, but at the cost of radical reductionism.

MacKinnon argues that feminism necessarily adopted a different analytical strategy from Marxism, looking first not at the structure of class, but at the structure of sex/gender and its generative relationship, men’s constitution and appropriation of women sexually. Ironically, MacKinnon’s ‘ontology’ constructs a non-subject, a non-being. Another’s desire, not the self’s labour, is the origin of ‘woman’. She therefore develops a theory of consciousness that enforces what can count as ‘women’s’ experience — anything that names sexual violation, indeed, sex itself, as far as ‘women’ can be concerned. Feminist practice is the construction of this form of consciousness; that is, the self-knowledge of a self-who-is-not.

Whew! Now that I see it all laid bare on a page like that it seems very straightforward, but I just couldn’t get there myself. Yep, the women-are-constructed-through-sexual-desire thing just doesn’t work for me. Whether because of my looks, my social circle, or the way I carry myself, I’m just not “sexualized” very often. Actually, the only context in which it really comes up is when I work in the food service industry, and there it’s kind of a nuisance more than anything else. It’s fun to complain about because it’s like swatting at a fly. Engaging somebody else’s fear/fantasy. Anyway, in stories about one person creeping on another person, I identify 10,000 times more strongly with the creeper than the creep-ee. But heck, don’t I have as much right to feminism as anyone else?

Anyway, I guess I like Donna Haraway’s insistence on epistemologies of unity as ~the~ feminist (and Marxist!) problem.

 

In the future all objects will look human

Working on an article about cyborgs and emotional labor.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 8.28.24 PM(pdf)

The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa

Do you think I’m entitled to it.
To what he says.
Pleasure she says.
Don’t get any more specific
he says.
The angel coughs twice
while Theresa bangs her chest.
Well
spring’s coming he says.
Yes she says.
In fact on the way over I thought I smelled corn
but that’s impossible.
(The angel.)
Teresa bangs her chest again
like a truant horse.
I think something is wrong?
No says the angel.
Should it be this way
no engine just going and going.
Hmm I suppose so says the angel
but it’s difficult to tell
you’re marble now.
You’d sink in water. (Angel proverb.)
Theresa uses her marble thumb to
mash baked fruit while she mulls.
Before she became marble
Theresa and her girlfriends played soccer on the riverbank.
There was a highway and a field.
If the ball bounced too high it would bounce over the fence
into the highway first then the river.
A man retrieved the ball from the other side of the fence
sometimes he didn’t.
They kept their balls in nets attached to string.
The best players could kick the ball in a straight line
it would come back straight too
so they could kick and walk at the same time
easy
like taking water from a hose.
Having a marble body is not so different from the other thing.
Thinks Theresa.
She plays flea circus with her feet.
One foot goes clockwise
one foot goes counterclockwise.
She is afraid if she does this too long her feet will become a brain
something of yet separate from the body.
The angel has a marble body too
but that’s normal for angels.
That’s why it’s called firmament says Theresa.
Bad joke. No response.
Theresa can barely see the angel.
I can see you fine
says the angel.
I know sighs Theresa.
Once Theresa had a pet hermit crab named Napoleon.
Theresa built mazes for Napoleon out of cardboard
that she fished surreptitiously from the basement.
She glued dress shirts to the tops of open boxes to make a canopy.
Napoleon’s shadow became a squid stain from above.
Being a statue thought Theresa
means experiencing every emotion exaggeratedly
but separately.
Somewhere from the recesses of the past Napoleon’s shell
raps skittishly against the floor boards.
Theresa wonders where pleasure would go
if not firmed up and speared in stone
like an overgrown hermit crab
his hands caught between his legs.

How we internet today

The whole Instagram experience felt friendly. All I needed to exercise its “gospel” was my thin pocket size phone. And… and this is the best part… I could do it anywhere, any time, and under any circumstances.

Getting kicked off Instagram for posting Spiritual America was strange and confusing. I felt betrayed. I know there was nothing promised, but I felt cheated. I was happy sharing my work, my snaps, my pics. I enjoyed posting pictures of my own artwork and artworks by other artists. At times it felt like curating. Other times it felt like consulting (The offices of Holzer, Prince, Fend, Fitzgibbons, Nadin and Winters). Other times it felt like a journey, where one image led to another. Once when I was “surfing” Google and typed in the word “maps”… I received images of the Bermuda triangle (a place that’s been described as a giant whirlpool). It wasn’t what I asked for and it wasn’t what I expected. But this unexpected “gift” was something that I recognized and picked up on and “filed” away. I received all kinds of variations of the “area.” Some simply a colored triangle with three points covering the territory, others, just a geometric abstract shape. I felt like Christopher Columbus (“sailed around a sea without a compass”). None of this would of ever happened in 1985. There was no magazine out there called The Bermuda Triangle. Google is a complete set of encyclopedias from A to Z. (Two questions: where do they get all this information? And who provides it all?) Google is Good Revolution.

via.

1. This is Richard Prince talking about instagram. So, yeah, I’d say that’s an important document.

2. I’m still interested in how internet search technology affects systems of filing and retrieving knowledge. Even targeted search terms can still produce happy accidents– here, a bermuda triangle where none is expected. How different in kind and degree is that from the way one stumbles on information when browsing, say, microfiche?

Being a genius may require being especially alone. But at least one reason to be famous (if not necessarily a genius) is to be alone no longer. Sontag points this out one morning in Prague, at breakfast by herself — so we have record of at least one breakfast eaten solo — and yet the main point of the entry is her surprised discovery of the pleasure she’s taking in solitude. It’s July of 1966, and she is at a hotel. She drinks her coffee, eats “two boiled eggs, Prague ham, [a] roll with honey,” and finds herself content for the first time in months. She doesn’t feel distracted or inhibited, and she doesn’t feel childish; instead she feels “tranquil, whole, ADULT.” Her novel may be stalled, her heart recently broken, but for a minute or two, sitting by herself at a table covered by a spotless tablecloth, her son asleep upstairs, she is at ease. She sounds hopeful, even pleased with herself. “I must learn to be alone—” she vows. Yet the resolution is less than persuasive, provoked, as it seems, by necessity. Eleven years later, when her relationship to a woman named Nicole has foundered, she is still telling herself the same thing: “Remember: this could be my one chance, and the last, to be a first-rate writer. One can never be alone enough to write.” One function of the declaration is clear: to convince herself there can at least be a purpose to her unhappiness in love.

From “The Lonely Ones” on The New Inquiry.

LOL so I guess Michael Robbins’s new poem has a sick Marie Calloway burn in it. Fascinated by the spectacle of established poets responding to the youngs. From his tumblr:

tumblr_n2qtmaPTjz1ronzf2o1_500

In the old days…

From Emily Gould’s ‘we’re quitting Gawker’ 2007 post:

Early in the evening of the day I became Facebook friends with James Frey, Choire and I found ourselves standing on Chrystie Street, unloading boxes of n+1‘s Winter 2008 issue (“Mainstream”) from a very large Budget rental truck. We did this in a fit of perversity. n+1 editor Keith Gessen had driven the truck from the Ingram warehouse in Pennsylvania earlier in the day, accompanied by an n+1 intern that he’d been “mentoring.” There were six pallets. As usual, the issue’s contributors had been invited to the box-unloading party, and so we staggered, box-laden, past the likes of little Ben Kunkel, wearing his noticeably-heeled boots even for this athletic activity. Probably more people came later for the beer-drinking part of the evening. But we missed that part because, when the truck was fully unloaded, we hopped into it with Keith to return it to the Budget lot in Brooklyn. On the way there, Keith turned up a narrow street and smashed a taillight and a bit of the back end of a minivan that would turn out to belong to an Orthodox Jewish lawyer.

Keith handled himself remarkably well in this crisis, though he did later blame the accident on me: “You make me nervous,” he said, his voice getting high-pitched and muppety for a second.

At the time of the accident we’d been talking about Keith’s book “All The Sad Young Literary Men,” which Viking will publish in April. Jonathan Franzen had said that reading Keith’s book made him wish to be a young man again. And last night, Choire quoted a friend of his who’s reading a galley of the book as saying that the book was a cautionary tale. [The friend had written: "I just started reading Keith Gessen's novel — irritating of course, it's the n+1 world, where women are mere accessories, but not bad! But SUCH a cautionary tale.... To me it's screaming *Get out of NY before it's too late*!!! Or, shrink your life in NY... stop going to all those lame competitive parties. Look, I always liked Sloane Crosley too, but when the fact that she is *nice* is the subject of an Observer article, that is a culture in deep, deep decline."]

Keith didn’t understand how the book could be a cautionary tale.

Not having read the book, it’s impossible to say with any certainty whether it would make me want to be a young man or whether it would make me want to leave New York.

While Keith was writing a note for the minivan’s owner, I had time to flip through n+1 issue 8. In it, Wesley Yang writes about Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho, and of other “essentially unlovable” people, including himself:

Jasper once told me that I was “essentially unloveable.” I’ve always held that observation close to my heart, turning to it often. It’s true of some people—that there’s no reason anyone should love or care about them, because they aren’t appealing on the outside, and that once you dig into the real person beneath the shell (if, for some obscure if not actively perverse reason, you bother), you find the real inner ugliness.

Identifying with a serial killer is uncomfortable, maybe as uncomfortable as identifying with the pretty girls who rejected his advances. The essay puts its reader in both roles. Wesley’s refusal to shy away from the kind of “rude question” that “affects to inquire into what everyone gets to know at the cost of forever leaving it unspoken” makes ‘The Face of Seung-Hui Cho’ an exercise in revolutionary honesty.

In the Budget truck, I also had time to read most of Carla Blumenkranz’s review, ‘In Search of Gawker.’ Carla went back into the Gawker archives to trace the site’s evolution from Elizabeth Spiers’ first post in 2002 to the decadent Gawker of today. “Reading through the early Gawker archives means watching Spiers receive and record her New York education,” Carla writes, also observing that “her persona was part of her appeal,” while the site’s next editor Choire Sicha’s appeal was that he was “almost impersonally sharp and cruel and correct.”

Sometimes I read stuff like this and I feel like I will never catch up to the big kids. Seven years ago the cool people on the internet were writing cutting prose and starring in or starting The Awl, N+1, Gawker, and eventually The New Inquiry. Today cool kids on the internet are humblebragging about catcalls and writing terrible alt lit. I want to be part of a cohort.

Is there a history of Gawker somewhere? I feel like I’m supposed to approach internet “gossip” journalism with a hefty dose of cycnicism but actually I’m glad it exists and I wish I were around for its early days.

Twitter Making Waves

I started this blog almost five years ago because I was interested in how Twitter historically and experientially altered subjectivity. I hardly ever write about Twitter, but I think about it often. Here’s a clip from 2000, about humanism in biography. Interesting how much has changed in fourteen years– functional autobiographical language isn’t quite as sparse anymore, and Twitter is responsible:

A therapy of writing would attend to its more obvious symptomatic failures such as a poverty of style in which the arts of rhetoric are lost to functional language providing instrumental outcomes: form-filling, memoranda, plain description, bullet-points, summaries, reports, task-based analyses, and pro forma. These puritan forms are purposefully devoid of surprise, indeterminacy, invention, imagination, florid excess, disturbance, or ‘story’ that would offer a ‘Counter-Reformation’ explosion of style.

Bleakley, Alan. “Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives.” Reflective Practice, 1.1 (2000): 11-24. Web. 10 March 2014.

Even on the most macro level, it would be hard to argue that Twitter doesn’t encourage “Today I did x y and z” narrative. We’re still confessional, but we’ve subsidized confessionalism with concretism. And even when we talk about ourselves in emotional, personal, cogito-y ways, we augment those narratives with more “functional” documents like photos, screencaps, and copypasta. (Though clearly earlier versions of all three phenomena existed in diaries, too.) Also, earnestness — unlike in a diary or biography — isn’t compulsory.

Irony:

Task-based analyses:

Documentation:

Also, it should be pretty clear by now that “florid excess” and “functional language” aren’t always in binary relation.

Elephants

It was Tuesday so I went to see the circus elephants.
I knew that they would be under the tent in the only structure
big enough to dwarf them. Elephants cannot choose which part
of the crowd to love the way you pick apart meat on a chicken.
At the circus affection is an all or nothing affair which is difficult for elephants
because elephants are disproportioned have you seen one
an elephant. To have been squeezed out of a tube with a little trail
still hanging out. Next to the big cats and waterfowl elephants appear
more serious than other animals but they’re not serious they’re elephants.
Everything is elephants to elephants. Elephants
rank the circus on a scale of most to least elephant: elephant
bear sea lion lion lion tamer elephant
tamer big cats waterfowl properly-adjusted elephants.
The elephant steps onto a podium
the red place where elephants have two too many legs
more legs it feels than usual.
The biggest problem with elephants is their eyelashes.
Elephants are the saddest in the world but it’s
like how people with beauty marks have more confidence which
makes them more beautiful it’s sort of like how Othello
murdered his wife but it was his fault but still
thought the elephant. Maybe you’ve never fantasized
about the thrill of screaming WOOHOO in a crowded room.
Elephants dream of playing soccer so they can scream and drink ale
and pick up other elephants which no elephant has ever done.
Elephants are terrible at soccer
they use their trunks constantly
the ball just falls at their sides like fish into a net no momentum at all
elephants are not European
elephants are the ghosts of other elephants
elephants are what goes wrong when you make denim.

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