:: Essays

Hyperrealities of Incompetence: Rethinking Social Media Satire as Resistance published 16/02/2017

The American unreality is dizzying: a seeming endless barrage of incredulously unconstitutional leaks, official statements of Orwellian media denial, dimension-ripping institutional obfuscation, and high-level, anti-meritocracy stupidity. Social media humor in the face of such maddening horror can be resilient, instructive– transcendent even: building networks and like community. Good things can be said to come out of satire when Harvard builds a resistant “Bowling Green Massacre” pop-up bookstore gallery, or when the ridicule of gross official ignorance during Black History Month results in a renewed interest in the white nationalism of American history, 308 people retweeting—and more seeing—a real-life public monument of insistence to the record of Frederick Douglass at Maryland’s iSchool.

Jennifer Seaman Cook on satire and the new stupid.

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The Angel’s Trail: Seven Swiss Encounters published 15/02/2017

Youssef Rakha is an Egyptian writer; he has been in Switzerland to attend a literary festival and write about refugees. But what if Youssef Rakha doesn’t actually exist? What if in reality I am a Syrian refugee separated from my family – unsure of my future now that my hometown has been gutted and unable to step in Syria without incurring the wrath of war lords – stranded indefinitely in a German-speaking European airport: in Zurich, Vienna, perhaps between the two?

Youssef Rakha on seven Swiss encounters.

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Tom Raworth 1938 – 2017 published 10/02/2017

Hearing of his death, it feels to me now that we have been left to fend for ourselves, just for a moment, precisely when we need poets and people like Tom and all their wisdom. I wouldn’t want to presume, but I would imagine Tom would not have liked what I’ve written about him, finding it mawkish in its compliments. But his poetry, like his person, was not an assurance, or a correction. It was its own thing, shared for the purpose of being read and nothing more, correcting by example, inspiring new ideas and poems. Through its sheer intricacy, its intelligence, delicacy and humour, for my generation, his work has set a standard.

SJ Fowler remembers the great British poet Tom Raworth.

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Longmont Potion Castle and the Art of Absurdist Prank-Dialling published 07/02/2017

Like the Dadaists, much of what Longmont says has no intended meaning, neither connotative nor denotative. He is, in essence, a master at constructing otherwise logical sentences that serve no purpose other than to fill a void and provoke misunderstanding. When Longmont calls RadioShack looking to “revel in the excitement of Tandy [RadioShack’s parent corporation, which has changed names by the time of the phone call]”, what does he mean?

By Jeremy Klemin.

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Of Art, Race and Jazz: A Reply to Barry Schwabsky published 05/02/2017

Silver could happily cite if he were asked for a list of favorites, i.e. Charlie Parker, Wardell Grey, Howard McGhee, Thelonious Monk, Dexter Gordon, Duke Ellington, Cecil Taylor, Charlie Christian, Charlie Mingus (one of Silver’s paintings is entitled, West Coasting, an homage to Mingus’ East Coasting album, while Bud Powell and John Coltrane are evoked in his paintings Dance of the Infidels and Ascension), Al Haig, Clifford Brown, Horace Silver, Fats Navarro, etc.–and Maurice Ravel too! In other words, Alan Silver, who is white, has all his life been making a declaration of exactly the same nature as the one of Whitten, a declaration Schwabsky cannot believe could possibly be uttered by a white artist.

Steve Light‘s epic essay on Art, Race and Jazz.

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Poem-Coerced Novel, Novel-Brandishing Poem published 28/01/2017

Another useful way to think about Cosmopolis’s method of reappropriation is as a form of embedded, almost preemptive criticism. “Today,” Octavio Paz wrote, while musing upon the work of Marcel Duchamp, “we have criticism instead of ideas, methods instead of systems.” And Don DeLillo, in writing a novel that so indulges the very world-beating financial theorizing of its protagonist’s milieu, seems demonstrably wary of granting that discourse objective feasibility, or at least any sufficient sense of ambivalence that might make the very theorizing seem legitimized, as it exists upon its own terms within the narrative.

Steve Barbaro on Don DeLillo and Derek Walcott.

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Mark Fisher, Neoliberalism and The Hall of Mirrors published 15/01/2017

In his book Ghosts Of My Life he eloquently reframed the work of artists such as Joy Division and Burial to try and understand (and to an extent lament) the lost futures portrayed their work. Neoliberal policies deny the realisation of alternative futures, instead forcing a recreation of past moments until they become stultifying.

Guy Mankowski on the polemical message of the late Mark Fisher.

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Lumpenproletariat. Writing Attack/Antisystem/Subliterature published 03/01/2017

These are properly “deconstructive texts” in the sense that they burlesque rather than conventionally critique: they occupy the very language of disenfranchisement that is otherwise employed to demonstrate that they do not really exist. There is nothing of a Foucauldian paradigm here: this is not some pretence to an authentic voice of the excluded, a critique of the history of reason from the POV of the madwoman in the attic. The truly subversive character of the sublit project is that it is first and foremost a “locus” of détourning action – a radical poetics – a tropism. While the theorisers of the recuperated avantgarde toil to contain and expropriate the thing they imagine subliterature to be, their grasp necessarily comes up empty: there’s nothing to grasp, in any case, but a hologram of their own transgressed image, which they are more than adept at attending to.

Louis Armand on the Sublit Project.

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Against Literature as System: D. Harlan Wilson’s Splatterschticks published 31/12/2016

It’s all fine and well for literature to pit itself against the world’s many political/social/economic systems, but what about literature as a system? Especially in the late-capitalist Western world where so much of what passes for “literature” is an institutionally approved & commercially successful model of public taste preserving the status quo? And especially in the wake of the digital revolution—the web and the social media—within whose celebrity culture fiction becomes increasingly normalised into a commodity system? What about literary experimentalism whose radicalism is deep-frozen, packaged and to be consumed after mild reheating?

David Vichnar on D Harlan Wilson.

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Adults’ Swim. published 30/12/2016

Sex is narration. A good fuck is nonlinear, and probably nascent of anachronic existence, but there is nothing one can say about “sex” without describing a narrative. Imagery, fantasy, the question of origin in one another’s gaze, the repetition of consent through every fantastical act — all of these are world narrative lines sutured to a personal element always already lacking being.

Bradley C. Bergan critiques that ‘ineffable something’ that philosophical and literary texts about sex strive to grasp, his essay concluding in an implosive narrative allegory of its own.

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