Thursday, July 14, 2011

First question of my crowsourced interview.

Aindriu Macfehin
Why are artists afraid of making political work?
Thanks Aindriu - that's an awesome question.

I think this question is going to explode into several directions, but I need to interrogate it (as that is, in a way, what answering a question is): Firstly, in the question, there is the assumption that (some) artists don’t make political work, and then there is the idea that art can be apolitical. From my asking about these you can probably gather that I consider my work political, though it is not, on its face, overtly so - in the "realist" sense of, say, post-beat slam poetry or Brechtian social realism....

May I ask what you mean by "polictical"? It is a slippery term - I follow Guy Debord in believing that "every speech act is a political act", and treat the social and ethical - and art is, at its core, a social practice - as political; but many would dispute this - the common usage of "political" is tied to ideas of governmentality and large-scale social issues.

In a sense, my politicality (or that of my work - to conflate "me" and what I produce would be an error) stems from what I think of as the "avant-garde impulse" (though I know that many have issues with the term, for example Lyn Hejinian, who is wary of the military metaphor -and I can understand that) which is, in my case, directly tied to socio-political radicalism. Radicalism in one field goes hand in hand with that in another, and the boundaries become blurred.

Until quite recently radical artistic work was largely driven by politics, or had a very large political component - one need only look as far as dada, surrealism, fluxus, the Franco-African poets of negritude... language writing was/is based on (post-)Marxist/radical socialist theory (see Bruce Andrews' "Writing as Social Work and Political Practice").

Though there have been debates surrounding the efficacy of such, it isn’t really until the 70s, and the birth of minimalism and conceptual art that the politicality gets overshadowed or swept away (there could well be a political element to such work, but I don’t see it… I’ve got holes in my knowledge of art history). In the 80s through the 90s you have work like that of the pictures generation, hyperminimalists/post-minimalism (I still don’t know exactly what that is!), post-pop-art, the YBAs (with the notable exception of Tracy Emin), where much of it seems to be meant as a reflection or comment on the reality of living under capitalism, but there’s a kind of schizoid joy to it, a reveling in that depthless isolation and commodification – expemplified by the massive amount of money made by people like Jeff Koons and the like.

You’ve also then got the birth of ‘hipster irony’ and the growing marginalisation of sincerity – which is one of my personal pet peeves… this particular brand of irony holds little purpose, compared to dramatic irony or the ironic distancing of someone like Joyce in Portrait – it seems to me like little more than an excuse for people to not invest anything in their work, to shelter themselves emotionally. All you’re left with is a mirror that, rather than reflecting the real, reflects capitalist realism, the world as constructed by the apparatus of capital.

I suppose this is where the answer to your question comes in – capitalism has become the only imaginable ‘reality’. It is, so often, uncontested, because an alternative is unimaginable. There is the quote attributed to both Slavoj Zizek and Frederick Jameson that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”. And it’s easier to report ‘reality’ or our experience than it is to contest it, challenge it, or try and do something different.

This leads to the difficulty though – is change possible, and what role does art play in this? I have to say that I honestly don’t know. I just know that capitalism treats people badly, and cannot in good conscience support that. So I make art that I hope opens lines of flight, or spaces in which things opperate (I hope) differently to the current hegemony. This may or may not be successful/effective, but it is, I think, worth while (and not the only thing that I do). I think, for instance, that “/k/” has some interesting things to say about ‘madness’, language, and the experiences and power relations that relate to these.

People can (and do) level critiques at my work saying that it is ineffective, elitist, too fringe etc… but I think that there is (or should be) a space for such. It’s worth remembering the debates between Adorno and Lukacs on similar points, Adorno arguing for the political efficacy of Kafka, and Lukacs disagreeing, and proposing Brecht as a more effective alternative. It seems history has proved Adorno right, in the effectiveness of Kafka’s anti-realism as an effective means of both describing and problematising the dehumanising experience of capitalist oppression.

On the other hand, everything may be futile, but I’d rather not give up. And art is an enjoyable means of subversion as well – and in a way that’s where people like Beckett come in – the horrible absurdity of the situation – you have to laugh, and do something, or else it’s too much to bear.

A caveat though – I want to say that my writing isn’t solely a political project. It is obviously an aesthetic one, and is also deeply personal (one of the reasons for working with Artaud’s work…). Alan Loney has said that he writes “in order to keep the world from falling apart”, and I feel the same – or more to stop myself from falling apart. If I stopped I’d fall into a hole that I don’t know I could get out of.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Information as Material, Theory as Practice

So, I've been thinking about some things. I am working on a series of pieces largely dealing with duration - with the experience of differing levels of (dis)interest and expenditure while forcing one's reader-self through longform, largely a-significant texts (think much of Beckett's work, Kenny Goldsmith's No. 111 2.7.92-10.20.96 Tan Lin's BLIPSOAK01, Jackson Mac Low, Bruce Andrews' longer works, etc). I was also talking to my therapist this morning about the (normative) dichotomy between 'emotion' and 'intellect' - how most people divide their experience or understanding into these two poles (cf. Nietzsche's romantic construct, opposing Dyonisus and Apollo) - this also seems to correlate to the Platonic oposition between information and material, and between theory and practice. This is one of the things I really like about the Toronto Research Group's work (the TRG being Steve McCaffery and bpNichol). In the introduction to the Collected Reports, wonderfully title Rational Geomancy, McCaffery outlines the project as fundamentally practical - that the work is about doing and exploring as a means to the end of explaining, or as explaining in action. Such processes are also intrinsic to the work of Susan Howe, Leslie Scalapino (who is sorely missed), Antonin Artaud, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, William Blake, Bruce Russell, and Cecil Taylor.
This conversation arose out of a discussion of "work". I seem to have a similar problem with my work as Paul Celan did with his - he thought of his poems as accessable, and could not understand those who didn't, inscribing a volume to his English translater Michael Hamberger "nicht hermetisch". Similarly I sent a copy of A Pelt to a relatively prominant NZ poet, who described it as "too intelectual" (aside -another writer explained this in the following terms:
"whenever someone in New Zealand describes your work as "too" something, what they mean is what they say, but without the "too"), just as a girl who had been in a creative writing class with me drunkenly lectured me at a party about how I should "stop thinking about things so much" and "not be afraid to just write what I feel". I consider that book to be pretty close to the traditional lyric, and primarily 'emotional' - very much a work in which 'feeling is first' - although not quite, as, at least to the reader, the word is first, as ink on paper. This is something that many people forget, and which I find myself unable to.
In this way I would find verse that reports the internal thoughts and feelings of the poet as "too intelectual": the poet would then be paying attention to, and thinking about, and carefully manipulating language as a code, as a means to an end, rather than as an object that is beautiful in and of itself.
All of this makes me think about information, and language, as existant prior to my engagement with them. Kenny G, riffing on Douglas Huebler: "The world is full of texts, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more". What we as writers do is intercept and alter the flows of desiring-production that are active in language, aggregating, manipulating, filtering, altering, deforming. This is probably why I'm more active on Facebook these days then I am here - it is the perfect medium for tapping this vein of hypersemiotic joissance: the divertion of links, sedementation of information, manipulation/appropriation/deformance of image and sound - something which my former flatmate, Matthew Ward, knows all about. He's got a show, "The Ghost / They can speak for themselves" coming up at None Gallery in Dunedin - if you're anywhere near there, you should check it out.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Return of Sorts. Questions. The Durational

Hello.... If there is anyone out there... I'm returning, kind of, in a way. With some questions, but first announcements. Last year I managed to complete my BA(hons), with 1st Class hons., and am now undertaking a Masters in Creative Writing, also at UOA.
I've got a self-published chapbook out, A Draft from BIRDS, wich is the inaugeral publication of my micropress, &then&then, which will aso be publishing a chap by the great rob mclennan and launching a website very soon. There are also some very, very exciting names who want to / have agreed /have been bulied into participate in this venture, and I'm very excited.
I'm also teaching, which is really cool. I'm tutoring an introductory English/Writing Studies paper, and it's great, and I think a lot of my students are more on to it than I was in 1st year!

But down to the nitty-gritty - the masters project(s)..... here's the connundrum. I was planning on /trying to mash up various strands of my practice into some kind of agrogate, but it wasn't working. And my advisor was talking about lack of cohesion, or an affective center.... it was largely turning into a mushy blob.... but then I'm not sure of (or comfortable with) the parts as seperate.... and the idea of something happening in a poem seems strange to me... the point comes down I thin to this:

I'm a little bit worryed that my "taste" in things my be developing in such an absurd direction I'll lose connection with any kind of meta-discourse, or audience, or community.... things are getting kind of wierd.

Everything I like seems to be massive and largely centreless, flux instead of progression, or drone, poetry as both ambiend and psycho-traumatic(etymology is important here) experience, with an emphasis on duration.... reference points:Pierre Guyotat, Samuel Beckett, Tan A. Lin's BLIPSOAK01 (I've got to get the rest of them!), Kenny Goldsmith's No. 111, Artaud, Bruce Andrews more prolonged pieces, Karen Mac Comack in places, Steve McCaffery in The Black Debt or parts of Panopticon, the kind of psych-scapes of flux Auckland poet and mystic Jarrad Dickson constructs, the dronescapes of Swans, Earth, Campbell Kneale's various projects, late Coil, and Handful of Dust; much of the latest wave of US/Canadian blackmetal weirdness, the weirdest work fo Tricky, The Shadow Ring, the jagged, staccato time-fucking of grindcore and microgrind (ie 8sec songs one after the other) or rapidly moving polyrhythmic free-jazz or jagged post-musique-concrete composition-by-assembly... and internet hip-hop sensation Lil B "THE BASEDGOD".
Long form repetition that seems to go (k)no(w)where, other than the movement as an EMBODIED, EXPERIENTIAL ACT OF DURATION.
I need to perform this. How do you do it in a codex? Can you?
I'm leaning more and more toward sound-work as a possible answer.