Monday, October 12, 2009

Two from Action Books: Sandy Florian and Lara Glenum

The Tree of No
Sandy Florian.

Maximum Gaga
Lara Glenum
South Bend, IN: Action books 2008

It was inevitable that Florian's book would invite comparison, in my mind at least, with Ronald Johnson’s RADI OS, his epic reworking of Paradise Lost through the lens of Blake and by a process of erasure. However Sandy Florian’s book is a totally different animal. Johnson’s text opens:
______________into the World,

___________________________the chosen

Rose out of Chaos:

____________________________ song, (3)
Sparse, contemplative, verging on the hermetic, these lines/fragments sailing in a sea of metaphysical whiteness. Constrained by the properties of the original text, Johnson’s writing takes place between the words by a process of removal, “with God and Satan crossed out” (as the book’s blurb states), “reduc[ing] Milton’s baroque poem to elemental forces” and giving those words that remain space to breathe outside the strictures of Milton’s syntax. Johnson writes silence as an invocation of the primal and the metaphysical, and the silence enacted by the deletion of the divine, in the face of unanswered prayers, becomes inaction of the texts intertwining of chaos and celestial order, chaos out of which rises man, or out of which springs this new-blossoming flower. Here I am also reminded of Paul Celan’s “Psalm” and it’s “Niemandsrose”, the “No-one’s-rose”. The implications of this metaphysics of absence or deletion are to vast to go into here; perhaps the place for this is another essay. There is a kind of deformance at work (see Lisa Samuels and Jerome McGann, “Deformance and Interpretation” available through Samuels’ EPC author page), and this is also evedent in Celan’s reversal of prayer in “Tenebrae”: “Bete, Herr, / bete zu Uns, / Wir sind nah” (Pray, lord, / pray to us, / we are near).

In contrast with Johnson’s stillness, Florian’s book is one of perpetual movement. Her poem opens:

Beastly I fall at Adam under the shade, unclocked, first frocked, ovened at the core, from words no western man can wet. Beastly I fall at Adam under the shade, shaking shadows from the shadows, pretending, beastly, that the toads aboard the oncoming train are throned, green toads of the godliest worth. Beastly, debarred, hunted, wanton, I take refuge in the timber, entrapped in the awkward position of waking. (1)

The text is dense, animalistic and driven. It is “beastly” and “wanton”, enacting a very different conception of humankind’s creation “under the tree of no” (2). The dawn of humanity is in falling, in movement, timelessness and heat, and “words no western man can wet” brings to mind Emanuel Levinas’ ur-language – a language of communion and contact prior to any necessity of signification or “regime of signs” (Deleuze and Guattari).

The tree of the title is the Biblical/Miltonian tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This, however, becomes far more complex through the dissolution of this moral binary, and the appropriation of the signifier as the title, and designator, of the text itself. The “No” within this title becomes the unutterable/blasphemous statement of God/”Montgomery’s impotence and complicity in humanity’s fall, evil, and “beastly” nature, created “fit to stand, fit to fall” and, in God’s own image, “unhesitant[ing] to taste the waste”.

The “No” becomes a pseudo-synonym for the post-human “I” enacted within the text, denoting a collectivity or assemblage of humanity as flow and flux, driven and driving at breakneck speed (in parallel with the text’s analogous performance) toward destruction, absolution, or something different. This No becomes, paradoxically (and in true Nietzschian fashion) an affirmation of human animalistic passion and velocity: “But the sin in me says ‘I’”.

This arboreal metaphor mirrors the post-human assemblage, supplemented (and made more realistically complex) by the text’s rhizomatic network of interrelations, mirrorings, stammers and repetitions.

A certain post-human quality is also apparent in Lara Glenum’s second collection Maximum Gaga. Her first book, The Hounds of No (also published by Action Books) placed her at the forefront of the group of poets whose aesthetic tendencies Arielle Greenberg has termed “Gurlesque”, including Sabrina Orah Mark, Catherine Wagner and Chelsey Minnis. These poets work by drawing on overt femininity, kitsch, gratuitous ornamentation and a open, often aggressive sexuality, all tainted by a grotesque treatment[1]. Maximum Gaga builds on the groundwork of her earlier collection, taking the use of recurrent characters, theatricality and perverted romantic quests as the basis for this books oscillation between drama and verse in a baroque grotesquerie. The verse transforms into a horrific parody of Jacobian theatrical spectacle, literalising Deluzian tropes such as the Desiring Machine and the Schizophrenic machine alongside abominations such as Trannie Mermaids, Ultraclowns and Normopaths.

The text becomes the stage for a burlesque revue of perverse horror and debauchery, the players being assemblages of disparate parts and organs, orifices and frills, taking on roles as parts of sexual assemblages that mirror and move beyond those of De Sade and Pierre Guyotat.

Within the heavily ornamented theatricality of the text, where agitprop hangs “like gonads / from the walls of [the] voluptorium” the logic of gender and biology is lost in a seething mass of folds, questing phalli and labia that Minky Momo can stretch “around her body and [zip] herself inside”.

All concepts of bodily and sexual normalcy are destroyed, crushed under the tread of the “Visual Mercenaries”. Their rallying cry to “beg refuge in Maximum Gaga and its glorious excesses” paradoxically implies the amoral ethic of the collection: that these anti-real excesses are not something to take refuge from, but to enter into, and escape is only possible obeying their call to “submit to Maximum Gaga”.

This is what James Pate, writing on her first collection The Hounds of No, describes as the power of “obscenity as a site of possible liberation”. Submitting to the horror and excess allows the manifestation of escape from totalising realism and its hegemonic politicality, “through the secret side-door to the Sublime rather than through the mock world of realism”, manifesting itself as the “displace{ment of] causal logic with a totalizing logic of violence”. . The performance of gender and sexuality becomes conflated with violence as a liberating force, clensing these sites of the hegemonic forces of normativity / reterritorialization, allowing for a utopian (used in full knowledge of the words etymology), anti-realist project of construction to take place on the ashes of what once was.

This collection (assemblage?) is truly arresting, and truly liberating in its voluptuous carnage. It must be read to be believed.

[1] See Greenberg’s essay here.


Andrea said...

I've been reading these and your other poems in the new Brief - very cool!

Lara Glenum and the Gurlesque poets sound interesting too. I'm not familiar with their work but I had a read of Greenberg's article and will definitely have to check out some of their work too.

Ross Brighton said...

Hi Andrea - thanks for the kind words.

Glenum is fantastic, as is Greenberg - I've got My Kafka Century, which is also published by Action.

But the Tree of No is one of the best books I've read in a long, long, time. I'm going to have to check out here other stuff.

Kate Durbin said...

This seems to me to be the most succinct and precise articulation of the intent and scope of Glenum's work that I've read thus far. Has anyone else mentioned the literalizing of the Desiring Machine? I think not.

I started The Tree of No some time ago and was eating it up, and then I put my book down somewhere and have not been able to find it in the various piles of books in my apt. Your review definitely makes me want to dig it up!

AG said...

Fantastic reviews!

Ross Brighton said...

Last year was a very Deleuzian year for me, so such has infected my conciousness. In an essay that should be printed early next year I discuss Johannes' New Quarantine in terms of becoming-animal and the like.

Matt Walker said...

I love the name Sandy Florian. Abrasive, then immediately soothing. Rough, then smooth. Like certain types of toothpaste. (I mean this as a compliment, wholly without irony.)

Farrah Field said...

Ross--these poets are lucky to have you as a reader! Sandy Florian just read here in NY; I wish you could've been there.

Ross Brighton said...

Matt - I've never thought of toothpaste on terms of poetry, or poetry in terms of toothpaste. Illuminating, I think.

Farrah -
I do as well. I keep seeing promo for readings and seminars and the like, and wishing I could make it over there. one day I'll get me some fulbright dosh or the like...