The Register of Candied Decay
By Laura Joyce.
Carl-Michael Edenborg, The Parapornographic Manifesto
Tytti Heikkinen, The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal
Lara Glenum, Pop Corpse
(All available from Action Books)
‘Tear the petals of a beautiful rose until only the ugly, fuzzy pistil remains: in a sense, the dirty secret of the beautiful flower.’
(De Sade, quoted in The Parapornographic Manifesto)
Action Books has a reputation for aesthetic radical experimentation, and Carl-Michael Edenborg’s Parapornographic Manifesto is no exception. The concept of the ‘parapornographic’ provides a way out of the porn / anti-porn dichotomy, offering an exciting new framework through which to read cultural production. Tytti Heikkinen and her translator Niina Pollari have created poems by curating online google searches and found material. The resulting collection (containing poems from both The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal and Fatty XL) is nauseating, wild and arresting. Lara Glenum’s Pop Corpse tackles head-on the misogynistic hypocrisies inherent in fairy tales, which represent perfect essences of the sexual double standard. Glenum dismantles the sugared horrors of the little mermaid and puts the story back together again by offering the central figure of her work—here named ‘XXX’—agency and then some. Rather than desperately craving true love, this little mermaid fucks, webcams and fights her way to sexual and personal liberation. The discourses of contemporary pornography mingle with violence, cruelty, disgust and celebrity—and the result is a sick vertigo of images.
The Parapornographic Manifesto
Carl-Michael Edenborg is a prolific Swedish thinker, writer, publisher and activist. His works include a PhD on the history of alchemy; a graphic novel co-written with his wife (the illustrator Loka Kanarp); a founding membership of the Stockholm Surrealist Group; and a series of short stories and novels written under the pseudonym Gunnar Bla. Edenborg set up Vertigo, a publishing company interested in pornographic, experimental and philosophical writing. He published Swedish translations of Samuel Delaney, Dennis Cooper, Georges Bataille and Gabrielle Wittkop, among others. These writers, thinking through ideas around non-normative and radical sexualities including necrophilia and sado-masochism, are perfect examples of the ‘parapornographic.’
The Parapornographic Manifesto emerges from Edenborg’s personal and intellectual interests in sexuality, radical experimentation and pornographies, and engages with contemporary political and aesthetic concerns. But what it also does is offer a way to understand our engagement with the world. Edenborg posits that we live in a post-pornographic age, and by that he means that ‘both the experience of consuming pornography and the awareness of antipornographic arguments are normal to many people. This means our epoch can be called postpornographic’. He goes on to discuss the limitations of this binary opposition, and uses the opening of the manifesto to describe what he considers to be ‘parapornographic.’ By this he means something which is beyond, beside or transcending the anti-pornographic/ pornographic dichotomy and also that which collapses the boundaries of this opposition.
The manifesto opens with reference to a short story by Alphonse Allais entitled ‘The Bored Maharajah.’ This story serves as an illustrative centre for the rest of the work. The story unfolds simply: a maharajah, tired of what his power and riches can offer, demands an explicit performance from a dancing girl. Once she has removed every piece of clothing and jewellery he still shouts ‘Go on! Go on!’ until his servants use a sharp knife to flay the skin from her bones. The description is intensely charged and simultaneously critiques and produces violent sexual exploitation. This sets up the concept of the parapornographic for the reader. The pornographic impulse has nowhere to go—it reaches a dead end. The parapornographic problematises this search for the absolute interior; the secret which can never be revealed. Edenborg manages to find examples which illuminate his thesis and which ask us to review the way in which we consume and produce not only pornography but all cultural texts. He shows us that it is possible to incorporate such disparate thinkers as Andrea Dworkin and the Marquis De Sade in his manifesto. He suggests that Dworkin’s ‘righteous anger against the life lived in horror that is woman’s’ and De Sade’s ‘notion of love, in which violence, pain and humiliation are intertwined in an intimate way’ can both be included in the parapornographic, in fact, he would suggest that they are deeply implicated in each other’s viewpoints.
The key term ‘parapornographic’ has infiltrated my readings of everything from these three texts to football fan culture to high fashion. The parapornographic identifies a key moment in contemporary art and politics and reveals them to be ultimately inextricable; messily, sloppily, violently fused. This manifesto uses the metaphor of the hidden to explicate disgust, desire, abjection, excitement and horror, and in so doing chimes with the best of criticism, poetry and experimental writing and art which constellates around alternative literatures, which connect globally online.
Edenborg talks with humour about the impossibility of obliterating shame. He claims that until we see our politicians and our newsreaders nude, gaping, and erect in public we have not yet absolved ourselves of shame. The parapornographic has no interest in removing shame; in fact the parapornographic understands the impossibility of this and instead knows that ‘the boundaries of shame are not erased, and they will never be wiped out, they will only be moved about.’
Edenborg talks in some detail about the experience of the critic of pornography who chooses to claim that she is not touched by shame; in fact she may claim to be bored by such images, her body entirely under her own cool control. If the pornographic induces ‘the wrong kind of emotions in the critic: arousal, disgust, revulsion,’ then she may intentionally ‘hold back her emotions and be bored.’ The pornographic has, of course, the capacity to be infinitely boring. Edenborg likens this to the Marxist theory of the falling rate of profit:
The problem is that the pornographic revelation is endless and infinite and only shows the ever-same. This itself indicates that the hidden is not real. In this way, pornography undermines itself. This disappointment can be viewed as the obscene equivalent of the Marxist theory of the falling rate of profit: the greater the accumulation of libido, the less the surplus value in relation to that capital.
If we can accept that pornography is capable, then, of so undermining itself—of being at once shame-producing and disappointing—then what kind of creative solution is there which is not simply anti-pornographic? This false dichotomy (excitement/ boredom) can be easily accommodated in the parapornographic and become productive. Perhaps one way that this can be dramatised is through the use of taboo.
Taboo is often the element which gives punch to pornography. The desire to see beyond what is allowed, to see the filthy, the debased, the unacceptable, is part of the pornographic impulse. A desire to keep hidden what is abject is often an important driver for the anti-pornographic. The parapornographic, then, seeks to incorporate these boundaries, these taboos rather than to break or maintain them. Edenborg says that:
Boundaries can create wealth and abundance: the right kind of obstacles can provoke the spirit to an extra effort and to surpass itself. But many formalistic boundaries – like a taboo against showing an erect penis or an anus leaking sperm – do not give birth to playfulness, but to poverty. And on the other hand an argument that keeps a porn video from being interrupted – for example, by showing a train rushing into a tunnel (in the spirit of Hitchcock) – is sterilizing.
The parapornographic shows itself here to be a creative impulse and a psychotic one. The parapornographic is a kind of writing, of course, as its name suggests. Writing is an act of psychotic contemplation; a piling up of clashing, jagged and violent objects until they mean.
The parapornographic urges us beyond the simple binary of dirty and clean, and wants us to engage with both: spotless and vulgar; sacred and profane. The manifesto ends with a religious zeal which aligns it with the Catholic Church. The Church is parapornographic with its erotics of sacrifice. Perhaps this is the best use to be made of it; to consider it through the lens of the parapornographic. Edenborg describes the parapornographic as a ‘new baptism’ which ‘must be dirty. And violent. It cannot be sufficiently violent, and horrifying, always horrifying, because the sacred in our time, notwithstanding how emotional and tender it may be, is at the same time revolutionary, beyond good and evil; and thus a pain.’ And even more crudely, ‘parapornography is our salvation’ I would argue that there is some truth in this revolutionary zeal and that, in fact, the parapornographic is a mechanism that can be used to interrogate, dismantle and imaginatively repurpose outmoded and damaging structures. It goes beyond the anti/pornographic and encompasses all modes of cultural production and consumption.
The Warmth of the Taxidermied Animal and Fatty XL
This poetry collection by Tytti Heikkinen is, in effect, an act of double translation. Firstly, the poet translated google searches into art, and a second time, when that poetry was translated from Finnish into English. This chain of difference is important and alerts us to the fact that nothing is natural: the canon is not natural, a poem is not natural and is always artifice. The book is presented with both languages in tandem to encourage links between the words, whether you understand them in the traditional sense or not. There are some standout poems in the first section, and the title draws attention to the fact that this part of the book plays with ideas around death, obsession, and intimacy whilst also engaging with ecocriticism. This is a parapornographic text which uses the poem ‘AT SOME BOUNCEHOUSE’ to lay out its claims:
As long as consciousness exists, reality will be abused. our task is to ensure that meeting it will always be painful, and that the pain will continue until the person experiencing it feels ill. By the time the person vomits, reality will jam itself into the place it belongs: the world of experience. With these constraints, the accusation that reality consists only of text, symbols, and stories will not be reinforced.
So, where The Parapornographic Manifesto was clearly invested in dissecting and interrogating reality, Heikkinen is interested in ‘abusing’ reality. This deep-seated desire to violently confront reality and to enjoy disgust and shame is a parapornographic impulse. Two other poems in this section of the collection really stood out, for me. ‘The storage for stopped thoughts,’ which is a great title, contains a contortionist’s desire to be nothing more than a ‘torso’ with the ‘will to live squeeze[d] through a filter’ and ‘how permanent the plant’ uses language to collapse and identify boundaries between discourses across a few violently bland lines:
A couple of spectacles later a new amusement park.
On the terrace a cop’s wife joins the neighbouring apartment’s consumption party.
Background ascertained, the husband delighted with the power of habit.
Here Heikkinen bleeds ecology, class, and capitalism with repressive and ideological state apparatuses in a remarkable way. Read quickly and you can make a kind of sense of it. Read again, more deeply, and uncanny cracks begin to appear.
The second section, for me, is the most astonishing part of the collection. I really enjoyed the voice of Fatty XL. A voice which Niina Pollari, Heikkinen’s translator, describes as coming from thousands of specific google searches, which Heikkinen curates. Pollari describes Fatty as ‘an oversharer and an awful fuckup, completely concerned with appearance, substance abuse and adding to her collection of sordid sexual encounters; she is unwilling to learn and unconcerned with growing as a character,’ all of which makes her electric and compelling. Pollari continues, ‘all of her myopic observations are sourced from the teen girl monologues of blog culture, but Heikkinen curated a single, dimensional voice out of bloggy Google sludge.’ This transcendent young girl is reminiscent of Tiqqun’s Theory of the Young-Girl, a philosophical text on the commodity of the ‘young-girl’ in late capitalism, and an obvious counterpart to Fatty XL. Fatty XL behaves as capitalism desires the young-girl to behave. When Tiqqun state that ‘Capitalism has made particular use of the Young-Girl in order to extend its hegemony over the totality of social life,’ it is as though they had Fatty XL in mind.
MAKING YOUR OWN LUCK
Gonna say one thing just as soon as this vomiting stops…
Went shopping today for cute shoes. !!Everybody is
gross but me and my friends.
Fatty XL is an avid consumer. She conflates digestive and sexual acts; her social life is characterised by atomisation, bitching and shoes. Yet the two driving forces behind Fatty XL are the desire to lose weight and the desire to fuck. She has adapted entirely to the weight loss industry’s dangerous cycle and her reasons for this are largely sexual. the poem ‘ON PAR WITH WHALES’ shows this:
now I’m crackin up. reason being: when I
crush on someone,I think about how I’m an AWFUL
FATTY smashing into them!Seriously I’m a terrible fatty.
Perverse. A Godzilla pig.
I stopped eatin candy and still I cant
lose weight. Now I’ve been dyeting
eating only one nutrilett bar.
The awkward syntax, the over-sharing, the blaze of self-loathing and libido show this poem to behave in a parapornographic manner. This poem shows how well Fatty XL, the young-girl, has become a consumer of toxic diet products and how excited she is about the apparent transformation which a diet promises. There is disgust here, and shame, but there is also a deeply sexual description of herself ‘smashing into them’ as a ‘Godzilla pig.’ The erotics of fat are very clearly being invoked here and used as a counterbalance to the violence of the diet industry. If Fatty XL can work out how to enjoy and inhabit her sexuality then she will be outside the diet industry; she will not be behaving as the young-girl who ‘like capitalism, servants, and protozoans: she knows how to adapt, and furthermore, she’s proud of it.’
Considering that this material is curated from such specific sources, ‘POETIC GAWKING’ is an (non-)accidental masterpiece. Heikkenin and Pollari make a perfect poem from the googled material: shocking, alien, and sensual. Right from the opening line: ‘Every time Nea was wasted she wanted to fuck. On the front seat on her back, she opened her thighs and took it slowly in until places gave way.’ there is a beautiful authenticity to the experience which is also clearly imaginative artifice. The vampy femme fatale is invoked in the line: ‘She gave it up like a maniac, a memory-loss victim.’ But the most bizarre aspects of the poem come from the landscapes: bodily and physical. The world and Nea’s body are collapsed into one alien plane of ‘no atmosphere’; ‘dripping wet’; downy-haired mound’; sterile’. A beautiful, shocking piece.
Pop Corpse and the register of candied decay
Lara Glenum’s book is on the money about feminism, fucking and fairy tales. Her protagonist, XXX, is paranormally connected to Fatty XL. XXX, like Fatty, behaves like the young-girl in that she is slavishly materialistic and driven by a desire to adapt to her surroundings however bizarre and cruel. However, she also explodes the position of the young-girl by rejecting her situation violently. XXX, as her name suggests, is often shown to us through the lens of the pornographic. She is shown camming, masturbating and fantasising. This behaviour is made alien through the overall conceit that this girl is a version of the little mermaid whose sexual desires run to seal culls and extreme self-mutilation. The collection skates across registers and refuses to take a side; refuses didacticism. This new hybrid register is a parapornographic strategy which at once excites and sickens. This register, which Glenum describes as one of ‘candied decay’ is itself a contradiction: the candied part is toxically preserved in sugar – a sweet, nasty stasis. The decay is shifting, changing, regenerative but only works through the violence of loss.
‘Goo-Goo Lagoon’ shows XXX in a ‘rococo undersea salon full of kitschy trinkets, her appearance, everything about the scene, should appear excessive and slightly off.’ This is a spectacular use of telling over showing, and Glenum is a master at subverting this holy rule. We are forced to inhabit the male gaze as we are directed to look at ‘a single spotlight’ trained on XXX. Glenum presents us with the most blatant of scopophilic pleasures whilst simultaneously refusing to describe the subject of the gaze. There is an accretion of detail here, but each detail has its own aesthetic discourse: kitsch; rococo; excess.
‘The Royal Disorder Panic Party’ operates in a similar way, combining explicit, sexual detail layered with political critique. The description of XXX as the little mermaid works really well here. Where the original story offered butchery and brutality in exchange for ‘beauty’ by slitting the mermaid open and turning her into a ‘real woman,’ here the dubious autonomy remains with XXX who performs the act on cam. The description is queasy and follows the conventions of a cam interaction:
[Turns on webcam. Opens her cutting box & takes out scalpel. Carefully
cuts a hole into her scales where her snatch should be. Lubes her finger
with her spit and inserts it.]
The little mermaid story is evident, as is the transactional nature of the act. In this case the transaction operates within a consumer capitalist version of patriarchy rather than the feudal version of the original story. This uneasy tension between sex-positive autonomy and the politics of coercion is encoded into much of the sexually explicit language which Glenum employs. Of the freshly cut hole, Glenum says: ‘Look at the fantastic hole in your torso / The historical light of misery flooding through.’ Not only is the self-mutilation validated and rewarded, but this is then undercut with the second line which reminds the reader that what they are witnessing, that what is at stake in every pornographic exchange is the potential for entrenched oppression just as there is the possibility of autonomous self-expression. That the sexual act is elided with an act of self-harm is not accidental, but neither is it morally unambiguous. Glenum is not a didactic prude. Perhaps a more productive reading of this act, a parapornographic reading perhaps, is that the act of self-harm is not entirely oppressive and negative, but one which restores responsibility for the body to the self. Self-harm is referenced several times in the collection and the rather dubious pun ‘self-harmalade / spread like jelly out of open wrists’ goes back to the register of candied decay. This register allows for violence and stasis both, and the ooze of jelly, standing in for blood, is addictively sweet. The synthetic fluid is superimposed over the blood it symbolises and offers a sadistically cute version of the teen suicide.
This register of candied decay takes in and reworks several theoretical registers: psychoanalysis; trauma theory; Marxism; ecocriticism. Glenum has XXX drop such heavy lines as: ‘In the slutosphere O my hot father / u & I are no. 1’ and ‘In the traumadome / u r the prince of whatnot / & I am nobody’s daughter’. The running theme throughout is the prevalence of seal porn, which ‘all the young girls,’ especially XXX are into. By collapsing sadistic representations of seal culls with the representation of the ‘young-girl’ Glenum has XXX identify with, and become sexually aroused by, seal murder: ‘Sink yr seabunny fingers / in2 my creamo dreamo seal meat’ and ‘A CUNTLESS DUMPLING!! / I m so hungry for cock / I m nothing but cunt’. This is both a fresh representation of sexual expression and a satire on the apparent availability and vulnerability of the young-girl.
These three books have much in common. Each can be read through the lens of the parapornographic, and, each is voiced in Glenum’s ‘register of candied decay’. This register, which infects Pop Corpse, is also at the heart of Fatty XL’s desire to eat only ‘one nutrilett bar a day’ so she can lose weight. Bad, diet food is the ultimate horror here – predicated on an industry which sells addictive chemical junk in the place of real food. The excess and decadence in The Parapornographic Manifesto also takes place in this candied decay—the ultimacy of luxury is discovered equally in recreational murder and the pistils of a flower.
The above image is also parapornographic, also in the register of candied decay. Action Books’ prescient interest in these modes is clearly a reflection of wider contemporary cultural anxieties. The image is taken from Erno-Erik Raitanen’s 2012 installation Cotton Candy Works which allows visitors to touch, lick, and even eat, the disintegrating sugar. The pink fluff slowly rots and recedes into an abject horror of holes and decay. Raitanen asks the consumer of his work to consider their relationship to sugar, to food, to their environment. Sugar has a long and difficult history from its historical connection to slavery to the current ecological and biological anxieties around its toxicity. Johannes Göransson is currently writing his take on this violent, amazing substance in The Sugar Book (forthcoming from Similar Peaks) and this interest has clearly bled into the curation of these three titles. Sugar, like pornography, is a contested pleasure, an obscene luxury predicated on invisible labour. Each of these three books reproduces elements of pornographic representation to political and aesthetic effect, and each books offers a critique and celebration of excess and decay.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Ellen Joyce lectures on literature at York St John University. Her novel, The Museum of Atheism, was published by Salt in November 2012. Her forthcoming novella, The Luminol Reels, will be published by Calamari Press in 2014.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, April 10th, 2014.