August 31st, 2011 / 1:48 pm

Reading the new issue of Action, Yes

i’ll fuck before the winter’s out

Having read the new issue of Action, Yes while listening to Slayer’s Reign in Blood — except for when I got to “sounds for soloists” by Sebastian Eskildsen and Cia Rinne, which required me to pause Slayer — I continue to return to the final line of “Winter Diary” by Lidija Praizovic, translated from the Swedish by Johannes Göransson. The conjunction of the profane with the rhythmic beauty of its iambic tetrameter (da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM) really appeals to me. I back up and re-read the second half of the final stanza:

i simply say this: and i’ll stick to it
over my dead body
over my dead body
over my dead body
i’ll fuck before the winter’s out

That first line is a word clump, a recurring type of textual formation that we find throughout the piece, including at the beginning: “amateurballetsilliness.” Then three singular affirmations repeated — at this point is it hard not to think of Joyce’s word clumps in Finnegans Wake, and the affirmation of Molly at the end of Ulysses. Then a proclamation, followed by another set of three, a repeated idiomatic expression, which makes me stop and consider the act of translation. Is “over my dead body” a transnational expression, or is the expression different in Swedish? A quick (and admittedly unreliable) wikipedia search tells me that the American expression “to kick the bucket” is expressed in Swedish as trilla av pinnen (“to fall off the stick”). I’m wondering if Praizovic’s original text is Americanized or if we receive the idiom through Göransson’s translation? This gets me thinking about how little I know about translation. (I remember reading Benjamin’s essay on the subject, but for the life of me I can’t recall his thesis.) And it gets me thinking about how infrequently the topic of translation seems to arise in American literary conversations. Reminds me of a joke I read somewhere: What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual. What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who only speaks one language? American.

That joke makes me sad and embarrassed to be an American.

The music of the language (Praizovic’s language, or Göransson’s language?) is confused until the very end, until that last line. It’s herky-jerky. Spasmodic. It doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do, but it knows that it wants. A desire for desire, a desiring machine! The narrative is greedy and beset with yearning:

LIDIJA WANTS COCK! LIDIJA WILL GO CRAZY IF SHE DOESN’T GET ANY COCK NOW! she just can’t deal any longer! it’s been far too long!

To be honest, I feel uncomfortable reading her diary entry, if I am to believe the title of the piece is meant with sincerity — why shouldn’t it? Well, who writes in their diary about themselves in the third person? Is she observing herself from outside herself, the way I sometimes do in my dreams? Or is she telling a story about herself the way I used to do when I was a kid in my clubhouse? Like a curious bystander at the scene of a crime, I am drawn to this piece despite feeling like a dirty voyeur. The spazzy sentences excite me. What will come next? Where will it lead me? What will it reveal?

Which reminds me of what excites me about Ryan Trecartin’s work. The way it convulses. The way it seems to be forever swerving, a perfect representation of Lucretius’s clinamen. Praizovic’s piece works on me similarly. It moves at different speeds, almost seems to get excited and then taper off, build up and then fade away. A schizo-realism that admits endearingly, “i’m constantly sort of leaking.”

But enough about that piece, I think I could go on and on, but I want to mention other works.

sounds for soloists” by Sebastian Eskildsen and Cia Rinne brings to mind musique concrète, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s triptych of truly genius experimental albums (Unfinished Music #1 & 2 & Wedding Album), Nico Muhly’s Mothertongue, Burroughs & Gysin’s audio cut-ups, Plunderphonics, Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, Craig Burk’s Code of Abstract Conduct, Beckett’s “Not I”, murmur, chant, electric multilingual b-roll.

You Are the Roots that Sleep Beneath My Feet and Hold the Earth in Place” by Eli Levén, translation by Rachel Willson-Broyles makes strange the strange.

Blue tits are sitting in the tree in front of Sebastian in the bright park; they sing the way you scream. Everything is wide open. “Oh yes, oh yes,” says the man below him, jerking off his cock with frenetic tugs; and now and then he wets it with his mouth.

A diagonal reading: Sebastian as the doppelganger of Rilke’s Malte Brigge, who also at one point dresses as a girl to please a family member. Or: a secret fantasy Genet omits from Our Lady of Flowers, what is Sebastian capable of doing?

I imagine Sebastian being lit always from below, the way a campfire storyteller holds a flashlight under chin to produce craggy shadows.

The boyfriend apologizes and licks his butt like a dog before he stuffs his cock in him. It hurts but he has to stay on the stage, like a fuckmachine, rock his backside in a feverish cold sweat on last year’s grass on this sunny April morning.

I am reminded of the opening sequence in Fassbinder’s 1978 film In a Year of 13 Moons. If I recall it is morning. Erwin has become Elvira. She is in a park, she propositions or is propositioned, then she is beaten by a few thugs. She returns home. The look on her face as she stands in the hallway is too uncomfortable, I recall having to look away. I could not return her gaze because I felt as though I were watching a kind of sadness for which I had no preparation. Levén’s short piece has recalled that memory, has brought forth my shame. I decide to reconcile with Fassbinder in my own way thanks to this piece. I’ll go back and re-watch In a Year of 13 Moons. I’ll force myself to look.

What an odd experience, reading this material with absolutely no knowledge about the authors, no context, no expectations. These people could be anybody or nobody: they could be pseudonyms or heteronyms.

David Uppgren’s “Astrakhan” is interesting because it seems like it’s wounded. Where are the words, where have the words gone? They have been sliced off. Chopped. The words have been butchered. A kind of caesura that recalls Williams’s Spring and All, except that in Williams we get an abrupt end to a sentence (“The place between the petal’s / edge and the”), whereas in Uppgren the abrupt end happens in the middle of a word:

Colorized bodies, skeletons and ey
The pressing midni
Shadows of cit
Shadows of wo
Shadows of se

This is something I don’t think I’ve seen before. Maybe what’s missing is only hidden, not chopped off. Maybe what is missing is cloaked? (I’ve been watching too much Star Trek: Enterprise.) The lines turn into ghost towns. The lines disappear.

The second stanza:

I have seen the coarsest of
Lights, exorbitant for us in skin,
Spread across space, in the wo
This beautiful we

brings to mind the opening lines of Ginsberg’s “Howl”:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

Erased or paraphrased or modified or mutated. For me, the one somehow conjures the other.

Again, the speed is convulsive. Completion is impossible. A truly “writerly” text, in the way Barthes describes them in his introduction to S/Z. But I have no desire to fill in the blanks, to complete the text. It is already complete in its incompleteness. To “fix” it or “finish” it seems sort of…I don’t know…colonial? Like if I go into the poem and try to “make sense” of it, I have done damage because I have not accepted it for what it is, but instead reveal my desire to change it. As I said, I don’t desire to change it. I desire to experience it, to confront it. I desire to be in its presence, “In this damn ligh / In this damn now”.

And finally, a few thoughts about Stina Kajaso’s “Swedish Summer.”

What strikes me as the most shocking element of this piece is that it concludes with the words “The End.” How retrograde! To be definitive! To declare an absolute! Like so many foreign films that end with FIN. What better example of how badass it is to be the one in the room willing to go against the grain. (The grain, of course, is to be open ended, to shirk resolution, etc.) I especially like how this problematizes the conversation surrounding characteristic attributes of experimental literature.

Here we have a madcap romp of words and images, a compendium of near nonsense and non sequiturs, pop culture “Giggeti giggeti” and traditional religious authority “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” structured around a prologue, epilogue, and Two Acts. This piece is like an abandoned warehouse full of raver kids tranced out on ecstasy: the foundation is in place, but the location has been transformed into some sort of Foucauldian heterotopia (“The hand of pleasure and terror at the orgy castle. / This is party of 2010.”).

A beautiful woman in a bloody bunny suit smokes a cigarette and stalks the snowbanks brandishing a knife, while people in an echoey room talk about something in Swedish. I am captivated by the tension between form and content in this piece. Like the other pieces I’ve discussed here, it is unpredictable, violent, intimate, dirty, random, exciting, provocative, convulsive, imaginative, and like a villain with acid-laced candy it is luring, it lures me in.

I hope you’ll explore the new issue of Action, Yes. I’ve really only scratched the surface, and hopefully offered fodder for discussion. It’s amazing how little I feel connected to the international literary scene. What’s going on in France? What’s going on in Spain? Hell, I barely know what’s going on in Canada. And when I say “what’s going on” I mean: what’s going on in the subterranean scene, not the Nobel Booker scene. What’s the alive shit? What kind of monstrous literature is currently being produced abroad? This issue of Action, Yes gives us a welcomed glimpse.


  1. deadgod

      forever swerving, a perfect representation of Lucretius’s clinamen

      This interesting connection can be found explicated in this essay: , which seems (also) to be an introduction to Greenblatt’s next book.  This paragraph, behind the paywall, is what (I think) is being assimilated or at least translated in this blogicle:

      As it turned out, there was a line from this work [“On the Nature of Things”] to modernity, though not a direct one:  nothing is ever so simple.  There were innumerable forgettings, disappearances, recoveries, and dismissals.  The poem was lost, apparently irrevocably, and then found.  This retrieval, after many centuries, is something one is tempted to call a miracle.  But the author [Lucretius] of the poem did not believe in miracles.  He thought that nothing could violate the laws of nature.  He posited instead what he called a “swerve”–Lucretius’ principal word for it was clinamen–an unexpected, unpredictable movement of matter.

      I’d ask Greenblatt, with respect to this thumbnail making-present of Lucretian physics, how, if, one looking forward, the “movement of matter” is truly unpredictable, then, looking back, it can have been, to that observer, law-filled “movement”.

  2. françois luong

      “What’s going on in France?”: See last issue of Aufgabe, edited by Cole Swensen, and past issues of Verse, on French poetry and poetics (which came out 2 years ago).

      “I barely know what’s going on in Canada.”: See Action Yes issue of Fall 2009. If you want to see what’s going on in Québec, see New American Writing 29 (2011).

  3. Deadgod

      platefuls of cabbage

  4. Ben Roylance

      That first poem is… genius… 

  5. Christopher Higgs

      Thanks, François!

  6. deadgod

      beautiful:  a new theory of atoms

      here is a theory of atomic anatomist tom toms:

      to a plate full of cabbage, everything is, was, and will be platefuls of cabbage

  7. deadgod

      Do you mean Winter Diary?  It would be interesting to hear from its translator:  Does Praisovic write a Serb-inflected Swedish?  If so, does that, what, resonance appear in his translation of the poem into English?

  8. Ben Roylance

      Yes. Winter Diary.  And I agree, although I know nothing about other languages or translations, and tend to just trust the translator.

  9. Johannesgoransson

      Deadgod, it’s hard to answer your question because it’s hard to define how a foreign language influences the writing. It’s certainly not obvious or foregrounded in this piece. This is the only part I’ve read from this book (her first book made quite the splash). But, yes, you’re right, she’s an immigrant. And thanks for thinking about the role of the translator.

      Also, thanks to Chris for this wonderful review.


  10. John Sakkis


      you’re right, not much is written/ talked about translation. but sometimes it is. have you seen the really fantastic online anthology “towards a foreign likeness bent:: translation”? an all star lineup of some of the most original thinkers of translation writing today. see Ammiel Alcalay, Charles Bernstein,
      Norma Cole, Marcella Durand, Forrest Gander, Bill
      Marsh, Sawako Nakayasu, Kristin Prevallet, Ryoko
      Sekiguchi, Jonathan Skinner, Rick Snyder, Jalal Toufic,
      Keith Waldrop, Rosmarie Waldrop, Chet Wiener… (link to download pdf (really worth printing!) or zip file)

      and and yeah, thanks for the amazing new issue of Action, Yes Johannes…


  11. Amber

      Chris, thanks. Really really excited to dig into this issue. Wow.

  12. Benjamin Grislic

      Anyone notice today’s word of the day is Metaphrastic? So appropriate…

  13. John Pluecker

      Thanks for the review.  And for the link to the pdf of the translation journal.  And the tip about the Quebec issue of New American Writing.  Awesome.

  14. HTML Giant on AY Swedish issue - Montevidayo

      […] Johannes on Sep.01, 2011, under Uncategorized Here’s Chris Higgs insightful review of the new Swedish issue of Action, Yes: A beautiful woman in a bloody bunny suit smokes a cigarette and stalks the snowbanks brandishing […]

  15. NLY

      The ‘swerve’ exists at all for Lucretius in order to explain that very point to himself. He described the atoms as ‘falling’, a trope for him of stagnation and linear decay, and he used the trope of the ‘swerve’ to explain why the jumper never hit the water. Because he is very careful to remain material in his worldview, he must describe this inventive tendency in matter, as he saw it, in terms of the purely physical: the unpredictable was a law of nature, for Lucretius.

  16. M. Kitchell

      I’ve been trying to get that issue of Verse for ~1.5 years without any luck, due mainly to the fact that when i contacted the editor the only way possible to purchase it was via check?   

  17. deadgod

      Well, as this discussion shows, with textual substantiation, quite well – – , Lucretius understands there to be three law-systems: ‘necessity’, ‘luck’, and ‘will’.

      I guess I’d like to ask Lucretius (or you) whether “luck” means ‘I don’t know’ or ‘no one can know’, and whether “will” can be free (in the sense of ‘prior non-determination’).  How is it, in Lucretian physics, that randomness co-exists with strictly (and knowably) ordered mechanics?  –I mean, how does one know some event or cause is random and not just materially mechanical in a way obscure to one?  –what does it mean to assert knowledge of randomness?

      I think that I think that real unpredictability is inassociable with ‘law’, which maybe makes me too dull for a Lucrtetian-physics conversation.

  18. Aaron

      great post. i think deadgod should rename himself “dead skin mask” for this post, after the slayer song.

  19. Anonymous

      Isn’t almost every face a “dead skin mask”?  –‘peeled skin mask’? ‘flayface’? ‘shedmask’?  It would be a cool blogonym–why don’t you use it??

  20. Anonymous

      Isn’t almost every face a “dead skin mask”?  –‘peeled skin mask’? ‘flayface’? ‘shedmask’?  It would be a cool blogonym–why don’t you use it??

  21. Action, Yes; The Swedish Issue; and the Poetics of Compromise « BIG OTHER

      […] is, of course, much more — check it out for yourself.  Check out Christopher Higgs’ engagement with the issue at HTML Giant.  Check your preconceptions and standards about art and literature […]

  22. NLY

      Mr. Greenblatt’s book came in the post today, and I remembered that I’d never replied to this. I’m not sure if you’ll see it, but all the same. At the time I was ruminating on how best to break down “Lucretian Physics”, as such, and relate it to your ideas about it, but I think it’s safe just to begin with the notion that Lucretian Physics makes no sense, and is of no use, except in as much as it is metaphorical. Whatever uses it held for a classical audience have gone the way of the Pre-Socratics and Aristotle’s four-legged flies.

      It is, after all, precisely the way Mr. Greenblatt takes him as: metaphorical. Even if Lucretius meant every word in the most literal of ways. “Inexplicable”, as an explanation, necessarily means more to Lucretius than it will to us. Lucretius is possessed of an essentially religious temperament, living in an essentially religious world, and attempting to execute an essentially irreligious worldview. The whole poem is conveyed, and sustained, around the religious intensity of its convictions, of its endorsements, and language. His accounting of physics, like most other accounts of the day, is basically a mystical one, by our own standards, and his materialism basically immaterial.

      But it is this which, it seems, makes his soil all the more fecund, for us. Greenblatt’s book is essentially an argument for the vast importance of Lucretius’s book in the shape of modernity, and the importance seems to him to be deeply rooted in the technical language of his work being exploited as metaphor. I haven’t read the book, and while Lucretius’s fingerprints are noticeable throughout time, I’ll stick to a broader observation about his integral role: Harold Bloom, who is another popular/populist figure who has taken a great deal from Lucretius (from his first books, to his latest, with the nomenclature for his theory of Influence essentially being lifted from him), uses the trope of the swerve (clinamen) to account for something called reaction-formation. This is not necessarily sustainable as an interpretation of Lucretius, but it is sustainable as tropological exploration of Lucretius. And that is how it seems to me Lucretius impacts us, and it seems to be both what Greenblatt is doing with Lucretius, and is describing being done with Lucretius.
      It is that gap reasoning which affronts our modernity, which we was modern people make use of, and Mr. Greenblatt seems to think help made us modern. I don’t know about that. I’ll get back to you after I’ve read the thing.

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      […] Last August I wrote about the special Swedish Issue of Action Yes. In particular, I drew attention to the second half of the final stanza of Lidija Praizovic’s “Winter Diary,” translated from the Swedish by Johannes Göransson: GETCOCK&FUCK yes yes yes i simply say this: and i’ll stick to it over my dead body over my dead body over my dead body i’ll fuck before the winter’s out […]