Banality & Trajectory

Suffering a minor injury three weeks ago has lead me down a road of boredom and restlessness that I'm finding difficult to deal with in any truly productive ways. This injury coincided with a change in my employment, moving myself into a realm with more time (theoretically a good thing) and less money (always annoying but should be fine once I adjust to the changes). The changes felt like a banalized but concentrated attack upon my body, my schedule and the way I was moving in the world. Arguably this is something that was needed to shake things up, but the small quake of multiple changes resulted in larger waves of irritation than expected.

I have reached the point of "finishing up" my forthcoming book, Experimental Men, which is slated for release on my 33rd birthday at the end of May. The text is complete and I'm in the process of final edits, and then I'll begin the design process and photo editing and turning the text into a "Proper Book." This is normally the stage of the process that I find most satisfying and exciting (shaping the material into a book that is) but for some reason, right now, I can't find the necessary motivation to jump into the process. I find myself instead letting my headspace wander towards inklings of future projects.

Part of the intent of Experimental Men is to provide an 'exegesis' of my project up until now (as I'm surely at a point of shifting direction) for those interested in it, and also to allow myself a sort of final exorcism of the particular territory I've been mining for over ten years at this point. The book contains texts that have been formerly published elsewhere along with 'new' content, all heavily revised and edited. The 'core' (the corps even) of the book is Hotel, which was conceived of as an expanded 'novel' in 2008/09. Completing Hotel felt like the defining element of the project, as it was something that I had been holding onto in my subconscious for the entire duration of its unfinished existence. It began at the beginning of this specific corpus and has just been completed at the literal end, so the duration really allowed all of the necessary elements and conclusions that the ten years of narrative explorations of such specific themes brought up. I believe it provides the necessary ending for both the book and the project-as-a-whole (which I am, of course, avoiding any explanation on here; really I'd rather let the book speak for the project). The ending also opens up the direction of my current project (there are a few texts that have been published that exist in this new project, but I've been much more reticent with the work for now).

I think part of the 'inner turmoil' I'm encountering as of late has a lot to do with the desire to "move on" but recognizing I can't fully do that until I both finish things and make the necessary preparations for what's to come: I say this beyond just the art projects (Experimental Men being an astounding microcosm of this entire idea), but also the body-work I've been doing. It's the desire to move on to the next thing without successfully incorporating what I'm trying to finish. I've felt the urge to write something on this blog for a few weeks now and I wasn't totally sure why, but turns out that what I needed to do is just arrive at this point: I need to both finish things up to a level of closure, incorporate what I've learned, and actually let myself consider the prep work an important part of what's to come. Not to get entirely vague here (which I am), but this feels really necessary.

I've felt an urge to return to the yoga studio more often lately, and this seems related: yoga is the physical practice that connects internally much more directly than the rest of my physical work right now: this is of course the nature of yoga, and not inherently the nature of acrobatics, hand balancing, weight training or flexibility. I need to do the work to let the inner and the outer get back in touch.

The Body and the Experience of Limits

I've been extremely busy lately, to the point where any sort of internalized consideration of events or even just mere reflection has been relegated to those moments when I'm walking to or from somewhere, or perhaps between doing various tasks at one or the other day-job; all of this to say, of course, that this sort of thought itself has become interstitial. To a certain extent this is fine; it's certainly easier when you're trying to focus on keeping busy and sane while working six days a week, as sometimes too much reflection insists upon a need for more time itself, and if that time isn't available it can lead to an inescapable melancholy that becomes preventative of what I always stubbornly call doing the work.

A few days ago, in an email to New Juche (who, I should note, is one of the few writers publishing these days--that I'm aware of--whom I place utmost faith in; his project is very different from mine but I feel a kinship with it regardless) I mentioned that I'm interested in developing my body to a point where it becomes desirable to others, and that once it has become desirable it is my intention to pervert this desire by way of contortion or some other embodied capacity. My own desire is often found at or in limits (whether it be the limit of desperation or a scream, the limit of a falling or a wound), and as such it only makes sense to explore how I can explore projecting this for others (for, as always, I'm more interested in the creation of an experience than mere literary or artistic output, etc). This idea was not something I had consciously considered before I typed the words into my browser, but after I did I found myself very pleased and realized it was true. My obsession with developing my own body has always drawn its primary impetus out of ideas for performance and artistic output (even early on in my development, years ago when I felt entirely divorced from the physicality of my body, I was fascinating by men whose bodies were developed to a point where physicality could be used as a vessel for an art practice). The thing that keeps this fire burning, so to speak, is that it truly seems to be the first motivating factor I've found for putting the work in towards a development of the physical body. In the past I conceived of physical development as a mere road towards making yourself attractive to a potential partner, and inside of this I felt it was a shallow pursuit. Now, satisfied inside of an ongoing six-year relationship, the need to attract a potential partner is gone and it has allowed me rather to focus on a self-motivated reason rather than for someone else (as a faggot I'm not concerned with the continuity of a family lineage; I'll never have offspring).

Within all of this there are a few things of interest to note: shaping the body is not dissimilar to shaping the text--after a certain point it's all banal editing, a tightening up, an awareness of the desired outcome vs. the tools you have to lead to that outcome. Similarly there's a pleasure to be found in physical exhaustion, a limit in a true sense, for one can only push oneself to a certain point before nearing collapse. Granted, this point can be kept further and further away with more training, and this echoes the idea of limits wonderfully. I can only assume that there are further points of interest to be found, more parallels to explore (there is, of course, more that goes unmentioned here, but that can be saved for a further day), and this fact is even further motivating in the progression.

Translations from the Bernard Noël issue of Givre

Bernard Noël importance, as I've declared elsewhere before, is of the highest sort in my personal appreciation of art. He manages to use a linguistic poetry of the body to probe the impossible. While there is much more of his own work to consider, I've taken upon the task of instead translating shorter works from the issue of Givre dedicated to the man and his work; as such this is not the work OF Noël, but rather work for, or about, or to Noël. I suppose more will come as I work through it, but at the moment here is all I have that feels complete. My mode of translation is its own beast, and perhaps not entirely true to the original text at points, but more my mode of translation has to do with how I am personally encountering the work in its totality...


[paraphrase of secrecy] by Unknown

........................................................................................ ........................................................................................ ........................................................................................ ........................................................................................
Thus the reading of the texts of Bernard NOEL is a dangerous action, not so much on the moral plane — which would not have much interest — but in a more extraordinary way, on the physical plane. It is perhaps the first time that, in the history of writing, the reader risks something by reading: to not stand intact of his reading. Physically, one plays with his health. And should we imagine that it is necessary to label the texts of B. Noël like one would label prescription pills: advice of use, a dosage and the inscription in red: "Do not exceed the dose..."

          Stop this language
          Finish your mouth
          Don't think the mouthful.
You resist. You refuse it.
You multiply the excuses: it's too much, you're not used to it...
But you know that you hide behind a rampart of words.
You put them one on top of the other, as you have always been taught.
It's the rampart which protects you. You cling to it.
You put your back against it
and you push with all your force.

And yet you would like it to crack.
You hope for it, but we're holding you back.
                                                            Touch your mouth
                                                            Take your tongue
                                                            Find your language
Set your voice like a bomb.

* * *

Untitled by Jean Vasca2

A cry haunts the memory of the world
A nail planted far into the nights of our flesh
Hurling an impossible dawn

Men of revolt
Men of pain
Bonfires spreading down the centuries
You are crossing the Story of red birds

And we
At this hour in this place
In our closed off bodies
And in our dead languages
And we
Disarticulated in reflective voids


1I'm not sure who this is by, the journal makes it unclear, pg 92
2pg 126

Movement, Performance, Film, the Book: On the Body and What It Can Do

One of the things I had set out to write about in my last blog post was about how my interest in exploring the limits and capacity of my body have to do with a desire to engage with a new direction in my practice as an 'artist' (a term I've never accepted as needing to point to a single medium). Throughout my (written) work I've always been concerned with the following list of, for want of a better term, "experiences of the impossible": limit-experiences, the trance-state, levitation, hypnosis, inversion, and, perhaps above all else, the sensation of the "float."

J.G., a perceptive reader of Spiritual Instrument in a review on Amazon stated (emphasis mine):
Only at the instant of limit-experiences, ranging from excursions into the desert, violent sexual episodes and encounters with distortions of familiar media (TV, videos, etc.), the vast dimension of the external reopens as a void; one in which consciousness drains way all the perversely useless excesses of the Idesire, meaning, need, significanceuntil all that remains is just a lucid awareness of the body: Kitchell often refers to this liminal state, teetering between an irrevocable conclusion of being or nonbeing, as "floating." Much of the intensity of Spiritual Instrument derives from this blurring of the internal and the external, self and space.
I was shocked when I encountered this review because, in many ways, J.G. manages to articulate something about my work which, while I am certainly aware of it, I'm incapable of pinning it down so directly. This positing of the limit-experience as a route toward a state in which "all that remains is just a lucid awareness of the body" is almost a working definition of modern yoga (at least my preferred styles, Rocket/Vinyasa/Ashtangaalso, it's worth noting here that yoga is a practice and more of a concept than something that specifically is or isn't something: I don't want to lend a definition to "yoga" because it can mean many things to many people and, aside from semantically meaning unity should not be held to anything specific), and Spiritual Instrument was entirely written and published before I had developed a sincere yoga practice.

This might point to another revelation for how I felt so at home in a yoga practice after finally diving it, but what I want to point to now is the fact that this conceptual bent, which I formerly have explored primarily through language-based mediums (whether through prose-narratives, fragments, poems, spoken language, etc), is easily translated into the medium of my body. I don't have all of the necessary strength, flexibility, skill needed yet to do everything I want to do, but somewhere between performance, dance, and something else, I have an idea growing about the possibilities that are opening up to me.

I've been committed to the acts of writing and reading (literally always away from any dominant forms) since my early teenage years, I have not been committed to exploring the potentialities of an expressive body for the same amount of time. I recognize this, and often find it frustrating that an idea I have cannot yet be as easily translated from idea to body in the way it perhaps could be from idea to text. I think this is ok though, as recently I've felt somewhat like I've neared the end of what writing can do for me in exploring the aforementioned "experiences of the impossible." I'm not done with language, I can't imagine I ever will be, but as I've pushed further and further through the experience of the book, I'm looking for yet another vocabulary to complement the work.

What do I mean by that? Right now, in my head, it involves a sense of performing for a camera (whether still images or moving-pictures), and combining said images with the other elements of the book that I make use of, allowing the book to further become a vessel of performance. This is, undoubtedly, where I will first find any sort of success with what it is that I think I'm after, as it is of course the form of the book itself that I call my home as an artist (an important distinction; it's not writing that I call my home, it's the book). In the future I'm interested in pushing into the form of the film (and I should of course qualify that my preference for this signifier "film" should not be read exclusively as medium dependent, i.e. on Super8 or 16mm itself; that would be my preference but I recognize financial constraints and always have) in the way I have explored the form of the book. Allowing sound and movement into these explorations of the impossible is something I've been concerned with for a while, and I feel closer to this than I ever have before.

One might be wondering why I wouldn't just concern myself with performance itself. I'm fascinating with studying performance, and I do often love the act of performing for audiences, but I'm not convinced that the "performance" is the best "vessel" for that ideas I'm interested in expressing via an artistic practice. For my purposes I'm more interested in performance as a tool rather than as a form. Performance in itself seems to work best when it requires the presence of an audience (look to perhaps my favorite examples of theater and performance art: Grotowski's actors intensity among a audience instead of in front of, Hermann Nitsch's participatory actions, Gunter Brus's theater of the extremities of the body, John Duncan's work from before he was "exiled" from the US). The idea of private performance and ritual fascinate me, but to directly present said examples to a public would be to cancel out what it is that makes them interesting. I think here of the difference between Rudolf Schwarzkogler's actions (always performed exclusively for a camera) versus Otto Muehl's actions (which are more like oogled happenings perhaps). The power of the image that Schwarzkogler presents is dependent upon the fact that what is happening (or not actually happening) in the image was performed in private. It lends an air of the other rather than banalizing the extremities in the way Muehl's actions and Reichian therapy exercises do (and perhaps this is why it's really the documentation and Kurt Kren's films that use images from said actions that have lent Muehl his aura of transgression).

* * *

I'm once again moving too far away from what I thought was the issue at hand, so before I carry on down one route, I want to talk about a few films I've seen recently that have inspired ideas about the potentialities of developing a new direction in my practice recently.

Site (Robert Morris & Stan VanDerBeek, 1964)
I've always held a fascination with Morris's work. Part of it has a lot to do with a confluence between form and desire. Morris himself carries a rugged masculinity that is not dominated by machismo. He visually references masculine archetypes (specifically gay archetypes, despite not being a homosexual himself) while still insisting upon form and the enigmatic nature of certain forms (i.e., the labyrinth). Site was a performance from Morris with the help of Caroline Schneeman.

Part of what appeals to me about this performance is twofold. For one, it's an excellent illustration of something that has always appealed to me about Morris's work, which is the way much of his work seems to carry a masculinist impulse to use the bodytied neither to machismo nor necessarily heterosexuality, but rather to his own experience. Site serves almost as a "dance" but at a construction site without a pretense of insisting that he is saying something about gender. Rather, it's about the use of the body. The second thing I like about this performance is the way VanDerBeek films/presents it. The inclusion of Schneeman's nude body possibly could be said to dismantle some of my above commentary, but the film reads more like a subversion of the generalized art gaze where, instead of objectifying the nude woman (i.e. All of Art History), the point of focus becomes the choreography of manual labor and Morris's actions. This is what makes it interesting; the way the film is able to shift the point of focus, whereas in the performance itself the spectator is, of course, going to look wherever she pleases. Also, VanDerBeek's film pairs the performance with Burroughs reading from Nova Express, which of course affects what we see even further!

(watch an excerpt online here)

Gong (Teo Hernandez, 1981)

Some notes I took upon first watching:
An immensity introduced after a somewhat banalized beginning, lowered expectations shattered into something close to what it is that I'm looking to do with cinema myself: a model or an example, a route to follow finally. There's a use of the body for the purpose of performance contra the use of the camera for the purpose of a sort of cinematic performance and both instances are aimed at one thing: intensity. Parts of this film approach the optical verisimilitude of a flicker film purely through camera motion and the image trail of motion blur, the way the mechanical apparatus of the camera changes in different settings of lightHernandez's exploits this wonderfully.
Many of Hernandez's films sit comfortably in a gray area between film and performance (or at least "performing for the camera"), but here there's further integration between the idea of movement/dance of a body and the way the camera interacts with this movement; moving itself, rapidly zooming cutting moving. The two meet each other and, in result, "movement" as a general concept is extensively magnified, becoming something more exciting than each would be on their own.

The combinatory results are why I bring this up here; an example of a cinema in which it is not merely dance or movement that is recorded, but rather movement that is completed by way of editing and camera itself. Something more intending as cinema rather than as document, and in the idea of the "vessel" or the "container" or the "form" this is very important to me.

Memosium (Louis Dupont, 2002)
 Sometime around 2008 or so I wrote a novella called Paul Gerrior in Jacques Riverrun's The Abyss is the Foundation of the Possible. It was my first major publication (being published in its entirety in 2011--and with color photographs, in in issue 03 of No Colony), and in many ways the "establishing chapter" of what I would continue to be obsessed with for the next ten years. Part of the creation of the book involved writing descriptions of invented experimental films with an attention to a developing eroticism. One of the invented films involved passing around room of a hotel, down a hallway, and encountering a writhing body through an open door at the end of the hall; basically what I intended the imagined film to feel like was something desperate an something that wasn't supposed to be accessible, something that you're not supposed to be seeing.

Dupont's film is wholly is own, but there are elements of the film that struck such an uncanny note that I felt as if I was seeing something I had invented without my own knowledge, so close did it capture the intended feeling described above. At only 6 minutes Dupont builds an eroticized space of pure movement, the figure writhing, unclothed or partially clothed, singing praises to the sky, inhabiting an abandoned building.

Once again, like in Hernandez's Gong, the film has to exist as a film; it is not merely a filmed performance. The cut displaces time, the camera circles through, space and time are disjunctive, impossible. The figure a hermit, lone inhabitant of abandoned space, as the other, met against the camera.

(watch an excerpt online here)

Notes on a Practice

[I started out with the intention of writing about some films I've recently watched that have inspired me to revisit and reconsider the idea of what it is that I want my art practice to do, but what began as a mere introduction to allow me to talk about said films grew into something all its own, so the films will wait for another day as today there is something else that wanted to come out via language]

I've spent the last two years or so dedicated to improving my improving my corporeal form. I spent years incapable of bridging the gap between mind and body, but, oddly enough perhaps, it's always been only via the realm of art that I've understood a necessity to allow the two to meet.

I believe in a synchronicity in life; an idea that if you are manifesting the right energy that things tend to happen when they should be happening (which, by the way, is not necessarily when you want them to happen)I know there's a degree of this that is bullshit and ignorant of societal structures in the world, but to me I like to think of it as relying on a sort of motivated chance. And while I do believe (again) that there are indeed structural factors that heavily effect how people are able to move through the world, I believe in a sense of karma, though not just a moralistic one in which "good things happen to good people" or vice-versa, as clearly that's not true at all. A better explanation is, perhaps, that a certain degree of radical change only becomes available when you make yourself open to it. For the first ~30 years of my life I wanted to be in better shape but I was not necessarily open to the factors I needed to be open to to make this happen, despite a desire for this change to occur. This was an instance of me wanting something before I was actually ready for it. Perhaps it's because this desire was motivated by little more than a desire to appear attractive to a larger number of people and less connected to any idea of the mechanical self: it was more of a linking of self-worth to physical aesthetics. As a visual artist, as someone who appreciates and often privileges visual aesthetics in certain mediums (film, for example), this makes sense, and is still something I believe in. But any engagement with aesthetics at all easily reveals that a combination of visual aesthetics with function, meaning, experience always amounts to something larger than pure aesthetic import.

Through inadvertent hypnotism I managed to quit smoking a few months shy of turning 30 and this remarkable change was the so-called "first mover" which allowed me to progress further. By this point in my life I had maintained a very passive interest in yoga for a few years (due to finding it the one sort of "exercise" I was capable of maintaining any sort of interest in over an extended period of time). I had a very wan at-home practice that involved following along with some extremely basic videos I had found online (I used the same three videosone with a runtime of 28 minutes, one 20 minutes, and one closer to 50minutesfor close to 5 years, to indicate how unmotivated I realistically was). This interest was compounded by vague notes I had read regarding Georges Bataille's interest in yoga. Later, upon discovering my interest in the work of Bernard Noël, I learned that Noël held this interest as well. But ultimately I remained too lazy to go deeper.

After quitting smoking I had a new-found energy available accompanied by a desperate need to replace one addiction with another. A friend insisted I come with her to an actual yoga class at an actual studio, and, eventually, I did (thank you for that Lorian). I can't quite remember the entire experience, other than the fact that the class (which, coincidentally, was a heated advanced class) kicked my ass. Some unknown quality of the practice was unshakably attractive to me, but it took about a month of fits and starts before I became a devotee. I do remember a specific turning point where, less than a month in and with very few classes under my belt, I came to the realization that this practice would be immensely good for me. I struggled with the idea of making time for a regular practice, and I struggled even more with coming to terms with the financial costs, but it was the most unexpectedly overwhelmed I had found myself since the early stages of my relationship with my partner several years before, so I knew it was something I had to follow through with. And so, because I was finally ready for it, the regular practice of yoga entered my life.

There were several things that, in the early stages of my dive into the practice, struck me most intensely. The first was that my body was physically changing, fairly quickly, in a way that spoke to me that this was what I should be doing. I felt stronger, I had more energy and felt significantly less lethargic, and my sex drive amped up (I've always had a heavy sex drive, and so having it kicked up a notch further felt extremely intense).

The second thing that I noticed was how my mind was integrating with my body. There was more of a connection. I was accepting my body as part of me instead of as a mere vessel for consciousness. And with this acceptance came a knowledge that I was grateful for. I became aware of how food sat in my body (which lead to further changes related to diet), I was aware of how alcohol affected my body as well; I could feel when I was doing things that my body didn't want me to be doing, and when I was doing things that my body did want to be doing. It was as if I had finally unlocked the door separating body and mind, as if communication were finally available (I could write a further essay relating the essential nature of communication as sacrifice, which is an idea derived from Bataille [who in turn, of course, took it from much older and indigenous thought and practices], and how there is a literal element of sacrifice required to allow this communication: sacrifice of time, energy, resources, etcbut this can wait for another day). Once this communication began, and my yoga practice continued, I started reaping further rewards. Beyond the mere physical and mental benefits, what I was most noticing was how much I enjoyed the practice: it was something I looked forward to every day. My body, which had failed to move as much as it was moving in a single yoga class since I had last been on the school diving team in early high school, enjoyed doing things it wasn't accustomed to. On both a mental and physical level it was satisfying to introduce a new sort of posture or movement that was alien at first that with practice would become more assured and comfortable, steadied.

Several months after I began religiously attending yoga classes I embarked on a self-motivated route towards learning a handstand. It came quicker than it should have, perhaps, no doubt because of the absolute pleasure I had forgotten I could access by being upside down (another aside here: the two aberrant experiences that I have always found near orgasmic include: 1) hovering on or near a precipice [which I often describe as an "inverted vertigoheights don't give me anxiety, they give me a sort of corporeal erection], and 2) being inverted/upside down [whether hanging on monkey bars, the "upside down" parts brought about by velocity in loops on roller coasters, the time spent in the air between the diving board and the water in diving, or just being upside down in a pool]) and my body's complete elation at being given a task that was in support of its own maintenance.

The third thing I noticed, which was actually the absolutely necessary motivating factor needed for me to fully invest in the practice, was that I was encountering a sort of unexpected overlap between the specific realm of writing I was/am fascinated by and the practice of yoga itself. It was something that at first remained obscure, but the overlap became more apparent to me as I moved forward, and allowing myself to probe this intersect has been an incredibly important part of the process. It has a lot to do with breath, with moving through space, but most of all it has to do with the communication of an experience. In writing (specifically, of course, Noël's poetry, the écriture of Royet-Journaud, Albiach, Dupin, etc) there are these fragments of language immersed in the space of a page, small incidents that, when put in a sort of linear trajectory with other fragments, accompanied by elements that change the way the language functions on its own (space, enjambment, typographic signification, mise-en-scene, metonymy) add up to something whole, something akin to what I think of as a religious experience when done correctly. This is also how the yoga practice functions: the fragments are not chunks of language but the asanas, and the sequencing of the postures, accompanied by breath/pranayama, physiological/neurological activation (yoga literally means "union"), music and/or chanting, add up to an experiential text as it stands. It goes deeper than this, but that is the most direct way to approach it: both the best yoga and the best writing result in the communication of an experience.

This intersection has lead to what I consider further experimentation, and beyond the mere practice of yoga I've become interested in additional studies of movement. The over-saturation of the fitness world on social media (i.e. YouTube, Instagram) has revealed an abundance of physical "tricks" that recall the sort of corporeal/sensual experiences that I am after (i.e. a vertiginous sense of falling, inversion). Many of the weird "tricks" that come up (and I use "tricks" here in the way one might call a handstand a "trick," for want of a better term; I might insist on using "asana" or posture, but it might become unnecessarily complicated to tie non-yogic "moves" into the yoga practice, merely on a level of linguistic signification) are attached to calisthenics, bodyweight workouts, movement culture (think Ido Portal, etc), parkour, and so on. These are skills which require further physical engagement which I'm happy and continually excited about exploring. All of this has come to me as an individual who literally three years ago was more than likely to spend several days doing nothing but sitting in front of his computer and eating if no other responsibilities presented.

Because I revel in the so-called transgressive "shock" of throwing two disparate things together, I've starting to refer to myself as a gay art jock. I myself can be accused of, in the past, associating "jocks" with a sort of anti-intellectualism and the literati as out of touch with their body; there are of course instances of this, but that's naturally not always the case. I'm enjoying mixing the two up and approaching both body and mind with the same sort of pointedness.

One must not forget how all of this also feeds into an experience of that other feared term, mysticism! There's so much corporeality depicted in the ecstasy of mystical states, there's so much experience in the idea of mysticism, finally figuring out a way to put all the pieces together is pushing me more towards whatever path it is that I feel I've always been drawn to.

All of this, of course, is merely to draw an introduction toward what I set out to discuss when opening up the blogger tab; an idea of where this has lead to, specifically, in my own art practice. Of course when I say "what this has lead to" that implies I'm already there. Rather, and what's more exciting, is that I finally feel like I'm on the threshold of a new approach to work, ready to step over and to cross into something that approaches that unknowable "goal" better than anything else I've attempted before.
The thing is, when something seems infinitely unattainable, the energy poured into the search is heightened. When you start getting closer to what it is that you're looking for, when you can feel proximity, you slow down, lessen intensity. But that pushes the goal further away. How to maintain that sense of importance as you're closing in? That excitement, that energy?

On Research as Practice

In another jag of (finally) finding myself inspired by film; was in a bit of a dry spell for a while. Picked back up Paul Sharits's issue of FILM CULTURE which I've had a photocopy of for years but never read in its entirety. I finally digitized it which is making it easy to read. An article by Sharits that I expected to be somewhat of a drag ended up being quite inspiring, "A CINEMATICS MODEL FOR FILM STUDIES IN HIGHER EDUCATION."

It's perhaps worth remembering that the academic environments of some of these universities in the 70s were not as toxic and careerist as they are now—I forget that higher education actually grew out of a desire to pass on knowledge. The way Sharits describes a film studies program is admirable but, I expect even at the time, somewhat impossible. Beyond just exploring an outline for a successful program, he also manages to articulate several things about the work (across medium) that speaks most loudly to me. Things that I perhaps once recognized but need to remind myself of. An idea as simple as the form should follow the intention of the work, not vice versa (as so often I am stimulated by form I hit an impasse when a desired form cannot be filled).

Some quotations here, so as not to forget them:

"I personally feel that phenomenological research should be clearly distinguished from the sort of psycho-analytical interpretation of 'meaning' of content which is so typical in literature courses and in courses dealing with narrative cinema; naturally some surrealist and psychodramatic works can be interpreted as dream-like but I would suggest that these films do not constitute the most appropriate kind of work for phenomenological analysis because while they 'picture' the dream state and invite viewers to participate in dream logic, they do not induce a dream state in an individual viewer. Some 'minimal' films, which do not guide the viewer along a narrative or a directive formal development, provide viewers with an open field within which the individual viewer can enter 'dream-like' states of consciousness; these 'synchonic' films may be most appropriate to phenomenological analysis."

"...This humor may or may not be a laughing matter but it certainly can be used to generate a speculative subject matter. The problem which presents itself is: how does one tell what is humorous, in distinction to what is serious but idiotic, or what is absurd but which 'feels' utterly pedestrian, or what is substructurally humorous but masks itself in an attempt to remove itself from the level of joking, or what is joking without being funny? Fortunately, one is not called upon, in speculating, to be sternly comic; the alternative to rigid humor is not crystalline seriousness but an outlook aimed at what lies beyond both humor and seriousness—the unthought, the undone, the unfelt."

But beyond noting these necessary ideas for future reference, what the article ultimately reminded me of was the importance of research to the work that I find myself most fascinated by. This returns to a literalization of "experimental" art—art that sets out to experiment with an idea. Robert Fulton, during an episode of Screening Room in 1973 speaks to this, noting that it doesn't matter what the outcome is. You can always move forward. But it is research, this desire to find something new, that ultimately guides the best experimental films, guides the most rewarding art. Sharits is an obvious example (as is Fulton) in film; Gregor Schneider, John Duncan, Eric Orr & the Vienna Actionists in the realm of what most people consider 'the plastic arts' (installation, painting); John Duncan (again), the recording artists discussed in Thomas Bey William Bailey's Micro-bionic: Radical Electronic Music and Sound Art in the 21st Century, & even more contemporaneously the work being put out by labels like Vitrine, iDeal and Recital does this with/in/for sound; in poetry we have the poets Paul Buck was working with in Curtains and Adam McKeown in Intimacy, the French writers (I've recently translated a short text on Bernard Noël's work that speaks of the physical effects that read the texts can have upon the body), Guyotat & and the Tel Quel writers, Bataille and Blanchot themselves of course in writing...more than any sort of genre descriptors it's the most coherent way to consider, really, my tastes, my interests.

This is not necessarily a shocking revelation by any means, but rather it's an important thing to remember (that I think I often forget). For me for the work to truly take hold there must be a push toward something beyond pure aesthetics or pure desire to narrate... Robert Fulton uses "cadences" as a term to speak of the sort of psychical matter, the energy of a film, the unifying factor. Maybe this is a term that I should adapt (similar to Sharits' preference for "cinematics" over "films" or "movies"). Interested as I am in limits, my work should be in some way interested in exploring the limits, or providing ways for the viewer/reader/listener to explore these limits. Ideally, both.

Material Evidence from the Outside

A friend of mine recently commented, regarding a grip of 12 inches he was posting photos of on Instagram, that he loves the cover art for Italo Disco singles because there's something slightly off about them, something that reminds him of the bizarre record stores that pop up in his dream, with titles and covers impossibly absent from the real world. As someone with a consistently over-active dream life, there's something so necessarily true about this that I can't help but return to the idea regularly. For me the recurring temple of capitalism is a bookstore (never a library, but I can't be surprised about that considering the world as it stands), never architecturally the same, but always with an impossible swathe of books and journals and ephemera that I'm utterly thrilled by, absent from the waking world, and also sad to lose upon entering morning light.

I've been thinking of this in a way of sort of manifesting a material object that crosses the border from this impossible "outside" into ours... for me, lately, the 'discovery' of Adam McKeown's journal in the 90s, Intimacy has been tantamount. Modeled after and dedicated to Paul Buck's Curtains (which in itself has been infinitely important to me), the journal, at least the 2 issues I've read so far of the 3 I've managed to track down, is consistently fantastic. Some minor work from authors I'm familiar with (translations of Bataille's & Artaud's poetry that are fantastic and rarely discussed, among other things) along with amazing and often sexually transgressive works from authors completely unfamiliar to me, often writers that went on to write little else (at least, little else that's been published). This invisibility plays into this imagined idea that these are transmissions from the outside... Materially, the journal itself is somewhere between Mimeograph, Digital printing, Xerox, and "professional," but often in strange formats and with fading text. Materially interesting in its imperfections, makes me wish I had never tried to pretend that Solar Luxuriance needed to make perfect objects (when interesting objects should have actually been the goal).

But I'm losing focus--I don't want to wander into a discussion of publishing right now.

I've been enjoying, recently, somewhat of a return to form in my reading, predicated upon my encounters with Curtains and Intimacy -- my route into experimental literature actually came from just being a young curious pervert, and it feels good to return to that. I've always been primarily interested in experimental narrative forms -- even in film and "poetry" (or more precisely, écriture), the work I enjoy most has some sort of "narrative movement," even in the most loosely defined manner. But the narrative can't just be whatever for me to really care. I'm a horror movie fan true and true, I "like" perversion, sex, transgression, violence. At an entirely base level. To be more accurate, I gravitate towards limit experiences -- both within the text, and in life (though in life my aim towards that quest is accomplished in a way different than perhaps expected, but that's an exploration for another day). I was reminded a few days ago that I started reading French literature almost exclusively due to Georges Bataille and Alain Robbe-Grillet, both capital P Perverts if there ever were any, and I'm 100% fine with this. I've read fairly widely (though away from the dominant paradigm) over the last 10 years, but my explorations that are more directed have been the most fruitful. It has felt nice to just be ok with indulging in my preferences, no pretense given that I have to be well rounded or anything.

The Castle of Communion (Bernard Noël, 1969)


During an interview in EXIT 10/11 (Winter 1976/77), translated by Glenda George in Spectacular Diseases No. 5, Bernard Noël articulates that the job of criticism "should be explaining the functioning, the necessary [of the work]." This is perhaps the most sound and succinct description of what criticism should do that I've encountered (at least as a description that I agree with), and as such I've internalized it, I hope, as a guiding light to re-engage with criticism. However, in addressing The Castle of Communion I can't entirely abandon the "I" of the text. Perhaps I need this pronominal marker of the self right now to lead myself into why exactly The Castle of Communion is necessary, and how it functions, despite half my frustration with contemporary literary "criticism" boiling down to the critic's incapacity to move beyond herself. Hopefully this insistence will allow me to move from this "necessary" subjectivity toward a larger, less subjective consideration of the text in the world.

I've been conscious of, and even actively pointed out the influence of Noël's work upon my own before, but I hadn't realized this specific novel articulates so well what it is that I'm often attempting. There are narrative elements, of course, that I remembered, that have stuck with me for their base nature, the nature of the Image; but what is most shocking is how much of the text--beyond the base violence and sexual subjugation--seems to have planted itself firmly in my headspace, repeatedly mined for details borrowed for own work over the last few years. Beyond this, being so absorbed in Noël's work, I find echoes in other texts of the poetic/narrative movement toward a mysticism developed here: it's in "White Love" more succinctly (and perhaps the effusion here makes it more direct, albeit less thorough), it's in "The Game of You I Us" (seemingly written at the same time as the definitive version of the novel's text--there are lines that show up in both the poem and the novel), it's elsewhere in the exposition on "poetry and experience" that Noël develops in interviews well into the early 90s:
"The unexpected always happens incidentally, unless I provoke it math-em-at-ic-ally. It's enough to reckon with the imaginary. And for the rest to obey such a strict code that only the unexpected can intrude upon it, as is right. Create a void somewhere, it immediately invokes its opposite. Create something unalterable, it will do the same. I love theatre. There is nothing more rule-bound that the theatre, but every rule is a labyrinth which leads to the minotaur at the same time as holding it captive. The head invents the rule in order to protect itself from the darkness of the belly, but the more it constructs meanders, the less it knows behind which of them the night lies in ambush. So the rule which was made to confine the monster in truth provides it with a hiding place, so well that it can surprise us at any moment. This contradiction in our defence system is tragedy. Here, I've seen to it that the system is so perfect that the contradiction is keener than ever. It's necessary to be tragically conscious of what lies in wait for us..." (63, my emphasis)
And then, from L'Espace du poème: entretiens avec Dominique Sampiero:
Writing means creating a void. Particularly writing poems, I think. A void which makes possible a precipitation.
And in La Face du silence:
You are hollow. But the void generates its opposite: a word wells up, another...
What is fascinating here is how Noël transmits his own--for want of a better word--metaphysics, philosophy perhaps, on the writing of the poem, into the narrative of the sexual initiate. There's more to this. Twice in the novel the protagonist is reminded of a yogic exercise to push through pain, difficulty. "Whatever happens, she said, tighten your belly, breathe deeply, compose your breath" (31). Pranayama is the yogic exercise of regulating the breath, especially in order to moderate or maintain tension or stress upon the body. In the practice of yoga it is breath the dominates the asanas (the physical postures) and the practice as a whole. Without breath, the asanas are considered useless, as they become mere spectacles of corporeal physicality instead of openings toward inner experience. Elsewhere the protagonist speaks three phrases which echo both Beckett and the yoga sutras: "I tried to understand. I was understanding. I saw myself understanding" (15). In literalizing this, Noël is clearly locking the narrative into a route toward inner experience (both the "inner experience" of Bataille and the "inner experience" of yoga). Or, the term that Noël prefers over "inner experience," which Bataille himself uses at the end of his trilogy, a route toward the stake.
* * *

For a book that became notorious for its battles against censorship, it's shocking that authorities were incapable of discerning that the sexual violence was only a route toward an end (I should note here that I want to mark down thoughts before before revisiting "THE OUTRAGE AGAINST WORDS," as I remember that text re-routing what currently strikes me about the novel itself into a realm where what's important is the ideological standpoint allowed to be highlighted). But, perhaps I should not be surprised about this, as I've needed to delve deep into Noël's work before reading the novel for a third time to remember anything other than the aforementioned images of violence. When speaking of the book to others who have read it, it is indeed the dog-rape that notoriously stands out.

In another short essay, "Poetry and Experience," Noël articulates the trajectory of poetry as experience, following on from the work of Le Grand Jeu and Georges Bataille. The Castle of Communion, as mentioned before, feels like an extension of this, only allowing minimal elements of the genre (the genre of the novel) to creep in, giving, perhaps, a more accessible shape to his exegesis. Elsewhere Jean Fremon rightly points out that The Castle of Communion is an "adult fairy tale," and this feels appropriate in identifying the "adult fairy tale" as a more accessible route for what it is that Noël wants to communicate. Poetry (especially poetry as experience) is beyond the grasp of most, especially now more than ever before--especially a poetry that aims at a something beyond mere description of experience. So while the novel might indeed be a mere a distillation of what Noël is after, it's an extremely well done distillation...

However, and it's here, having now re-read The Outrage Against Words, that we are forced to encounter Noël's own condemnation of this insistence, the danger of allowing The Castle of Communion to stand as an exemplary text of an initiation into inner experience:
Certainly one can make an initiatory reading of Le Château de Cène but if it's to lead to mysticism, one has it after all in the arse. In fact, where is the transcendence? Where the finality? The new initiate immediately plays politics and his experience falls back on itself: it has no other meaning outside of it.
This needs to be reckoned with. While this new wound upon the text, self-inflicted by its author, might refuse one trajectory (and lest we forget, it's the polysemia of the novel that Noël applauded til the end!) it clears up another. In the novel, during one of the initiatory sex scenes, the text speaks "No limit [...] No limit, except to enjoy it" (33). This is a trap. As Noël explains the opening chapters are a trap of one sort, what seems to be an authorial through-line here ("no limit except to enjoy it") is a subversive instruction, a condemnation. Echoed again when Mona explicates her desire not for love or sex, but only for excess, Noël approaches an idea of power through and through, and unless we let ourselves pay attention we, as readers, are bound to miss it. Should we not be troubled by the fact that all the servants throughout the novel are explicitly described as Black, or from "uncivilized" locales? Do we dismiss this simply as a lazy route for the author to further establish a sense of other-ness? At first this was what I let myself fall back into, and for this I, as a reader, am ashamed. For this is specifically what, when taken as a whole, the novel warns against. Again from The Outrage Against Words:
History is only the history of oppression. Revolutions, finally, have only ever served those who overthrow power in order to seize for themselves. We are duped in advance because the language is controlled. Language, like the State, has always served the same ends [...] The system is already a traitor, even if it has not yet betrayed.
Elsewhere in the same essay:
In what name am I pursuing my work? Towards what? Could it be that the abuse of language is tied to power? And could it be that there's only correct language to direct against power? Against what power? For power, which is central to everything, is first and necessarily a confiscation of meaning.
Language is a trap. As readers, it is our duty to refuse a passive acceptance of what it is we're reading, and I think Noël's text makes this abundantly clear. Chapter ten is the chapter most horrible, most inexcusable. And it is this chapter that cements the protagonist's initiation, in his "imaginative" telling, a sexual rite of pure colonization. Noël considered the novel a sort of emptying out of the violence he experienced during the Algerian War, and as such, the primary example of what is Not Right in the world, placed in the novel, must be the colonial impulse. Thus, the "civilized" nature of Mona versus the "brute primitivism" of her Black servants and the Orientalist fetishization of Black women as sexual play things. Thus, the protagonist initiate passing beyond himself and back into a self that can do nothing but abuse power. There is no escape from language in a world predicated upon the abuse of power.

Throughout the novel, the protagonist peppers the text with a refrain of "I remember." The trick here is that, clearly, he doesn't. He escapes one system only to replace that system with another that puts him hierarchically no closer to a true inner experience. I think, if we must insist there is a message to the novel, that this is it. One most not replace one form of power with another. This is not the experience of mysticism, this is not the experience of true revolution, this is not inner experience, the stake. This is only a reality that must be transcended.
I'm looking for a long, immense, reasoned disruption of reality, for what we believe in is only the paltry part that must be exploded. The surface. (55)

A Explanatory Note of Praxis

As I've abandoned Goodreads and am somewhat uncomfortable pouring real thought into Letterboxd any more, I find myself aiming for somewhere to organize thought on the texts I'm interfacing with. I'm shit at reflective writing in notebooks, to any coherence. I've had a desire for a Place again, a blog, a practice blog, an insistence upon thought instead of the casual approach... needed now I think. New directions further apart from the rest. Toward the outside.

As such, let me explain the tags--"godhead" refers to reflective writing on text created by authors whom I ascribe an almost religious importance: Georges Bataille, Marguerite Duras, Bernard Noël, Maurice Blanchot, Antonin Artaud. This could expand, occasionally. Other post-war French poets feel as if they belong their often... Anne-Marie Albiach certainly, Jacques Dupin perhaps, Claude Royet-Journaud, always more, always more. The "project" as it stands, right now (in the sense that is shaping this desire to Pay Attention to my reading at least), is two-fold: the first part involves a systematic investigation of the work addressed by Leslie Hill across three books--Marguerite Duras (particularly from Moderato Cantabile on), Maurice Blanchot, and Samuel Beckett (particularly post-1965, toward my own taste). It will be noticed that two of those three authors have already found their place within the fountain of the godhead, which is what gave me the idea to pay more attention to Beckett (of course, the other connecting thread was Danielle Collobert's insistence on his work... particularly Ping). The second part is a systematic (re-)reading of Georges Bataille's Somme Atheologique, mapped out chronologically and across volumes thanks to the introductory matter put forth by Stuart Kendall in his various brilliant translations.

I'm inherently not an academic, and also inherently more rhizomatic than systematic in my exploratory tendencies, so as long as I've had this desire (for systematic interrogation of above text-bodies) I've flailed somewhat. I've been successful in reading virtually all of Duras's post-Moderato Cantabile work over the last few years, and enjoyed the work immensely, but my reading has been--at best--casual. I don't find this inherently problematic until I want to invoke what it is about her work that carries my obsession, or when I want to recall a particular politic she invokes... It's work that deserves more attention, to say the least. All of the work mentioned deserves my closer attention, as for what it's given me, it's the least I can do in return. Aside from this, I've also missed a place to blog. After several attempts to set up a Wordpress blog that then ends up locking me out, after trying and failing to get re-energized by group blogs, I'm still after something else. So here we are.