OUT OF NOTHING #[0]; Or, blurbing the whole cacophony

oon0-tb[out of nothing] #0: theoretical perspectives on the substance preceding [nothing]
Ed. [out of nothing], October 2012
144 pages / $12  Buy from Amazon or Createspace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the opportunity presented itself to review the printed edition of [out of nothing] recently, I jumped on it quicker than anything I’ve jumped on since I was ten. The idea in my mind wasn’t even necessarily to “review” OON but just to be able to hold the thing in my hands, first and foremost. [out of nothing] and Lies/Isle are obsessions of mine of late—the online versions, that is; these strange permutations of art and thought and science and everything intellectually captivating you could imagine organized into endless mazes of online content. If we’re to believe in such a thing as collaborative arts on the internet, this, in my opinion, is the sort of thing heading up the effort.

So anyway, I immediately requested a review copy of [out of nothing] and when it reached my house I felt connected to something likely akin to movements in the art scenes of New York in the 70s and 80s or Berkeley and various Western lands in the 60s. Here was the personification of serious writing and art in the twenty-first century and here was my opportunity to consider it. To be sure, considering it is likely the greatest feat I’ll here be able to accomplish. I’ve tried over the past few months to conceive of items to potentially submit to a publication like OON and I can’t for the life of me make it happen. Perhaps it has something to do with the collaborative nature of the thing, perhaps the three editors and founders of OON are just that-fucking-savvy that they’ve managed to push the intellectual envelope even more, I’m not sure. All I know is, if The New Yorker was once taken (dreadfully) seriously as a hub to receive one’s culture, [out of nothing] (both the print and online version) is its strange twenty-first century cousin doing bizarre rituals/experiments in the city’s basement trying to reanimate the corpse of Soren Kierkegaard.

But I digress:

Considering the structure of this anthology, I’m going to move through and evaluate each piece in order with as calculated a response as I can muster. This being an anthology of the highest order, my efforts as critic of OON will be best if the responding structure of my own writing not attempt the strange collective genius inherent to that which I’m writing about. I featured the subtitle “blurbing the whole cacophony” to draw comparisons with Melissa Broder’s piece “blurbing every story in the new New York Tyrant,” because it’s helpful to have something to riff off of this time of year, when the mind slows down and wants only to recoil into hours of sleep. O sleep.

(Furthermore, given the array of materials that exists within the 144 pages of OON, the length and style of my interpretations will vary, and where my words will surely fail to illustrate the images/texts and their substance, I’ll include scanned images of pages because I’m not beyond that and I love this fucking thing too much to assume to understand it.)

Now, regarding the introduction:

IS THAT ALL THERE IS?
by Jon Wagner

Reading this, I’m reminded of something Rick Roderick says in his lecture regarding the works of thinkers like Foucault, or Habermas—and one could easily expand this to Deleuze, or even Derrida if one was so inclined—whose works can hardly be called “philosophy,” in the traditional sense. He goes on to emphasize that contemporary “thinkers,” must encapsulate more of society than was previously expected of philosophy, and that the greats like Foucault or Nietzsche must be acknowledged as something else to be understood. Not only can Wagner’s introduction not be called an “introduction,” in the strict understanding of the word, but it belongs alongside the works of those aforementioned thinkers as something transcending mere criticism, philosophy, history, geneology, ontology; the list goes on. What’s given here is first a consideration of the idea of [nothing],’ and what the bracketing of the word/idea itself might mean, then an introduction to the proceeding texts is given and it’s briefly explained that commentary will be provided by a handful of “Jabberwocks,” along the way—“Benjamin, Baudrillard, Derrida, and Kierkegaard. This is something I’ve not seen done, like, ever, and in addition to creating this extremely fun intertextual environment while reading, it brings to mind all kinds of questions about the apocryphal, marginalia in general, and ghosts. My own thoughts here channel and mimic Deleuze, Pasolini, and Miss Peggy Lee within a restricted economy of expression that bleeds a general excess in the very effort of constriction.” I.E. OON does not seek to be a mere anthology, nor even a mere physical book, and will go so far as to resurrect the dead in texts to bury its collective mind in the concepts of nothingness as deeply as possible. This is unlike anything dubbing itself an anthology that I’ve yet experienced, and onward we must go.

PRE-WAR
Nicholas Grider

I’ve wondered a great deal lately about the idea of a text somehow avoiding the idea of a start and finish entirely, and bridging the gap towards something more diffuse. One thinks of Joyce in this regard and Finnegan’s Wake, or perhaps something more contemporary like Lost Highway, but even still these things do have a beginning as far as location is concerned (the “first” page, the “opening” of the film). I’d feel safe in positing that Grider’s piece comes close to achieving this rather timeless sensation. Although the writing only runs across three pages, the blend here of Walter Benjamin’s and Jean Baudrillard’s insights with the author’s own do lend an eerie, spectral air to the thing and that tied with the fractured indentation of Grider’s lines tempted me to read the thing out of order, forwards and backwards; as many ways as I could considering its brevity. I won’t begin to argue that we’re a great deal closer to printed texts that could actually be called diffuse in this regard, but this first in the anthology does seem to chip away at this idea. I’ll include here the interplay between Grider and Baudrillard, without question my favorite moment in the piece.

“or you have better things to do, you are a background character who laughs a little too long at the funeral parlor with 2.5 walls, you can do a lot of things with flashcuts these days, jackknifing, binge drinking, shoplifting, heavy breathing. {}

{Indeed, you can, when the reified even it so much so that a single marker can indicate an
entire conceptual package: an action, a life, an historical trajectory. JB}”

THE WAY OF PROGRESS
Danielle Adair

I’m reminded of a far more adventurous version of myself that once set to reading all of Andy Warhol’s a: A Novel, wherein the “writer” puts together a series of recordings from various Factory luminaries and compiles them into a sprawling Joycean text that really stuck in my fucking head for awhile. This piece, “The Way of Progress,” is a compilation of sorts of an actual transcript of a performance art piece by Tino Sehgal, and the commentary of Baudrillard, and Jacques Derrida. The Derrida bit opens the piece and features a discussion of Heidegger, ghosts, and the well-worn territory of Derrida’s differánce, and again the comparisons with Warhol’s text crop up in my head; this endless, beginning-less conversation lorded over and reshaped to chip away at something at once nodding at the original performance piece, and transcending it.

APANTOMANCY/BELOMANCY
Maureen Alsop

“Apantomancy
divination through observing objects that appear haphazardly.”

/

“Belomancy
divination by the flight of arrows in which three arrows would be marked with the
phrases, ‘God orders it me,’ ‘God forbids it me,’ and the third remains blank.”

I include these definitions as they are included in the text, not because I wish to discuss again the interplay of ideas and odd secondary sources/commentators—they exist here, notably with Kierkegaard this time and another impeccable usage of Baudrillard (he seems to beg to be interwoven into modern poems/art)—but because they mark a separation between the first piece of writing in this: an unbelievably touching ode to the sun, a heart lament to philosophy and love, and the second: an indirect description of the three mentioned arrows as heartfelt devices moving betwixt the arcana of our daily lives. Perhaps it’s a breath of air in the veritable forest of ideas that is OON, I’m not quite sure, but this piece touched me in quite a profound way.

INTERVIEW: COLLECTIVE MEMORY
Amina Cain and Jennifer Karmin

Another comfort, this time a conversation between two individuals whose names are given at the beginning yet not later on and hence who might be speaking is unknown. This text opens with Derrida again asking questions from the grave, these questions are then answered in turn by our conversationalists (excepting a few that are added in the flow of conversation and are not attributed to Derrida): DO YOU HAVE A BODY? DO YOU HAVE A MEMORY? WHAT DOES IT GET FILLED WITH? CAN YOU SEE IT? DO YOU KNOW THAT WHAT IS INVISIBLE WITHDRAWS? DO YOU KNOW THAT THE MERE CONSCIOUSNESS OF OUR BODILY ORGANS IS ENOUGH TO PREVENT THEM FROM FUNCTIONING PROPERLY? WHERE DOES MEMORY LIVE? HOW DOES IT BECOME? WHO DOES IT BELONG TO? HOW DO YOU MAKE AN ENTRANCE THAT’S NOT AN EXIT?

Considering the space constraint I’m imposing on myself so that I don’t prattle on too long in each piece, I’ll simply suggest pulling those questions apart individually and then considering them all together, and then reading the piece itself and (hopefully) realizing the intense philosophical interiority that goes into something like this. The answers are beautiful and strange, un-capitalized and even childlike in places.

NOT CONTROL/PAU BRASIL
Laton Carter

It begins with a dissecting of control and proceeds as an exodus into the mind and literal place of Brasil, whatever Brasil may be, whoever Laton Carter may be, and Jacques Derrida cannot make head or tail of his poetry either. I’m in way over my head. Jesus Christ. Fuck. Just kidding, sort of. This piece has made me begin to think the commentary from the dead ones is far more a part of the artwork in OON than I’d perceived. Carter is addressed by Derrida by name, which is strange, and yet in the context of the whole effort it makes sense and I’ve begun to think of OON as a country all its own where dead thinkers and living artists walk around discussing food.

UNTITLED POEMS
John Cleary

A moving account of a relationship that I perceived to be struggling in the tumult of war. This might not be correct, but I don’t really care. There’s a free association with words in this in a conversation that I took to be between two lovers, and it all seems very painful and dire. The first portion of the ‘poems’ (though I can’t help but think of them all as one) made me think of Europe during WWI or II, and yet a mention of a cellphone in the third portion made me think I’d got it wrong. Perhaps I did, and yet I still have a beautiful image of a couple free associating in an apartment hiding from their city being bombed during war until eventually one of them brings out a cellphone, and I couldn’t have this without the poem, so can that really be ‘wrong’?

THE REPUBLIC FOR WHICH IT STANDS
Debra Di Biasi

Debra Di Biasi is one of the brilliant minds behind Jaded Ibis Press, whose titles of late have been on the cutting edge of strange fuckspheres, and narrative mindmazes by authors like Lily Hoang, Elizabeth J. Colen, Halvor Aakhus, and Janice Lee, to name just a few. Di Biasi is also an award-winning writer of deftly fresh prose and poetry, and her addition to OON is a testament to her brilliance. It’s an aggressive, Burroughsian fuck fest the likes of which I haven’t enjoyed as much since reading the sex scenes in The Place of Dead Roads as a teenager, or perhaps Philosophy in the Bedroom more recently. This being a much shorter piece, there’s a condensed headrape in Di Biasi’s Republic, and now I just don’t know how to feel about anything.

GOODBYE COLESLAW
Mark Ge

These are scanned/photographed images of notebooks featuring both words and images pasted to the page that make up a brief manic glance into the head of whoever’s creating this. One could assume it’s Mark Ge, and this is probably correct, but this only matters in giving a name to the face being conjured in the artwork; that doesn’t matter so much to me, but if it does you, let’s call this ‘person’ ‘writing’ “Goodbye Coleslaw” Mark Ge and move on. After awhile a text all its own appears and this is disconcerting considering we’ve only been looking at scanned scrawled notebook pages until now. Some of the words printed there echo the words scribbled onto the pages and it’s as if you’ve snuck into an artist-whose-work-you-admire’s house and taken a moment to glance through their journals. I prefer to think of this as a response to Goodbye, Columbus, which is funny because coleslaw the food and coleslaw the word are funny. I’m quite hungry.

ALL WORDS ARE BENEFICIAL
ShoneOne

Within the pages of OON I don’t think I much expected to find something like a “relationship story,” let alone a relationship story in the tradition of greats like Carver or Beattie, and yet, this one comes immediately after the fray of “Goodbye Coleslaw,” and the following three pieces offer more straightforward narratives, written with an attention to dialogue and emotion that, though apparent in the works up until this point, perhaps took a bit more digging to reach due to their recondite style. I really felt comforted by this piece the same way I’m comforted by Carver or Beattie, even if they’re writing about a tense relationship situation that seems to have reached its breaking point or something like it, the focus on voice and dialogue takes away the sting of its similarity to situations you’ve endured and you’re able to appreciate the human elements of such moments, texts, or stories. This piece came exactly when I needed it to, because frankly I struggled with this review in trying to distill what I could say about a text that already comments on itself with greats like Walter Benjamin, Derrida, et al, and frankly a nice human moment feels far more like my comfort zone. Commentary in this piece is provided by Walter Benjamin to encourage the idea that although these may be the sorts of events we’ve all experienced, there is always far more looming beneath the surface there for the taking if we should so desire. Fuck, this one was really a breath of fresh air.

HALLUCINATING CITIZENSHIP
Bhanu Kapil

“Panel talk for CalArts Impunities Conference (2008) at RedCat [with] mutations/end of semester notes for Naropa University undergraduate class: “Navigations and Narrative” 2010” (59)

I offer this because although based on that description it may seem again like we’re drifting off into more esoteric pieces, the fact that this was originally taken from a discussion, then refined and annotated to suit the education of undergraduates, makes it just as attainable and human as the previous piece. While this is in sum a piece exploring political themes—citizenship, alienation, the idea of the ‘Cyborg’ as put forth by Donna Haraway, the outsider—it’s also quite funny, and extremely artful in its conception, something I don’t often connect with political writing about extremely serious ideas. It seems as if most political writing today aspires to be as straightforward as possible, as stoic and serious as can be to communicate strict ideas and propositions to readers. I would argue this is an awful mistake because it takes politics as seriously as human life, as existence, whereas it should logically be the other way around. Kapil’s approach strikes me as more on the order of Gonzo journalism, admitting that there is no one answer, there isn’t even one author, and yet the whole thing thrown together with a kind of beautiful abandon gets to the heart of matters far more cunningly than, say, every news program ever.

REVENGE OF THE GIANT FACE OF FASCISM
Maxi Kim

I have to note first and foremost how absolutely ecstatic I felt typing “REVENGE OF THE GIANG FACE OF FASCISM” in bold letters just now. If nothing else, I suggest you try this immediately. But far more seriously, this piece brings to mind some extremely pressing elements of late regarding the West’s perception of the East, with a great deal of emphasis on the ubiquitous disconnect most Americans or Westerners have with the exact situation in places like North Korea, and the East in general, i.e. “consider how so few Americans can identify the face of China’s President Hu Jintao, while so many can identify the face of Kim Jong Il,” (74) in sum, we’re extremely well-acquainted with the threats of the outside world, while the more basic elements of society remain entirely foreign to us, and this in turn creates a threatening sort of general racism that Kim seeks to deconstruct. Kim also interestingly takes apart the idea of cultural texts needing one another to exist, for, if something like “Hogan’s Heroes,” (76) existed completely on its own, without films like “Schindler’s List and Life is Beautiful,” (76) its creators would be deemed obscene; one text requires the other for those witnessing it to feel OK when the content becomes questionable.

PAMELA ABER/WHO ARE YOU?
Christine Wertheim

I’ve decided here to utilize the option of scanning an image of the page and letting that suffice as my “blurb,” as this is a shorter piece and there’s little I could say that would sum up the experience of the thing itself.

aber

PLATES
Ian M McCarty

An absolutely fascinating piece (I have no comfort dubbing these things “poems,” “fictions,” “stories,” whatever, and have hence largely chosen the word “piece” to emphasizing the very beginning-less and endless nature of these texts) written in the style of a scientific examination of various flora and fauna and yet done so with a vocabulary to match Mark Leyner’s and a sense of humor to boot. Because of this and the occasional anecdote from Kierkegaard or Benjamin, this might be the funniest piece to me in the whole of OON, Ian McCarty seems like a solid fellow.

KITCHEN
Nick Monfort

Have you ever wondered what a poem (piece, whatever) might look like if written entirely from the texts of objects in a kitchen? I think I probably have as well. Nick Monfort put to rest that wonder in an enthusiastic defamiliarization of Sylvania products and countless dials and labels with accompaniment from Kierkegaard again regarding repetition—something Monfort utilizes brilliantly—and quotes from Benjamin about the nature of memory, or ‘memory palaces,’ to be more precise. I don’t often gravitate towards poems of the “found art” variety, and yet if I saw this printed on a wall somewhere I’d stop and admire its beauty. Although Monfort isn’t technically pulling from other works of art, I’d still consider this “found” in certain ways, and one of the more successful attempts at this that I’ve come across.

CALIFORNIA
Gerard Olson

OK, this is fucking brilliant. Reminds me a great deal of Denis Johnson, or Donald Ray Pollock, as it’s a desperate handful of people hoping some distant land will correct the malady of their existence. I’m not even going to say anything more because the sentences in this fucking thing made me feel so good and I’d rather just pick a few of them and let you decide for yourself.

“I was trying to teach my dog, Rib-Eye, to fucking sit when I told him.” (Quote here from Walter Benjamin that reads: “Because no one knows what contentment is, its resemblances are a wreckage of shapes. Irregular outlines are not an index of the hand of any solicitous maker. Rather, these notches and bulges and impacted angles and organisms are the map of our species’ attempts to transubstantiate peregrination into teleology. We shall arrive by arriving, and arriving must be a matter of some complication. The great nightmare is that the rivers will go still, that distances will close on us, that flags will all turn one color.”) (97)

“Outside of Church, everyone was pissing on arachnids to appease the God of Ethereal Bears, hoping that, with enough faith, California would materialize.” (98)

“Is it true about California?” He asked as I pissed.

“We rode horses back home where we cooked the food for dad. After dinner, we sat on the porch and honored the Great Inelegance of All Things. Dad played a banjo.” (102)

THE TWO THIEVES: A PANTOUM
Vanessa Place

Place’s work has long interested me due to the fact that it’s next to impossible to pinpoint one adequate descriptor for what it is she does. A piece of hers might just as easily be found in a museum, as it could be the sort of thing you sit around reading when your mind needs a certain kind of jolt that only writers (artists, poets, whatever) of this ilk can provide. This is as much a dissertation on the ways of recording history as it is a boiling description of certain historical events themselves. Joyce (and Finnegan’s Wake in particular) is used just as effortlessly as Jesus, or “Mona Lisa’s hot ass,” to illustrate Place’s point, or cacophony of points, or dissection of the oft-held belief that there should be certain points and we ought to cling to them for dear life for without them, we’ll have no history, yet Place seems to argue that with them, we only create the aforementioned boiling descriptions of every-fucking-thing all at once. I’ll end the way Place ends, because it’s extremely funny, OK.

“Here’s a story: a priest, a rabbi, and a Muslim walk into a bar. The bartender looks at them and says, “Get the hell out of here.” This is the story of history.” (119)

SPLALACES
Chris Sylvester

I’d be a grade A fuckface if I didn’t include an image of this, as it’s largely a series of maps of “Splalaces,” by Sylvester, with occasional accompaniment from Derrida, and Kierkegaard, but before that I do want to say that there’s a definite oversight revealed by pieces like this, and the work of writers like M. Kitchell, that unveils the artistry in things like cartography, or architecture, that I really fucking enjoy seeing blended with serious literature. IT’S A GREAT RELIEF!

sylvester

877 REMARKS ON COLOR
Tom Trudgeon

These are printed images of typewritten poems (pieces, artworks, whatever) on color sheets you might find in paint stores (Home Depot, Menards, whatever) and they’re very funny and rather nonsensical and I believe I’ve seen the online version of these as well because Trudgeon’s name sounds familiar. I can’t be sure. Extremely moving quotes from Walter Benjamin used here, humorous ones from Baudrillard, and individual pieces that I would probably pay a great deal to have in my house. You know what? I’m going to include a scanned image of one of the pages cos they’re kinda pretty OK.

877

I SHOULD BE SWINGING A SCYTHE
Jared Woodland

I haven’t the foggiest idea why, but when I began reading this piece I imagined a female voice for the narrator, which might speak to the fact that it opens with a quote from Derrida regarding the film that was made about him by a woman, though I’m not entirely sure. I like that throughout the piece I never felt encouraged to pick a gender for the characters, not exactly anyway—or if it was encouraged I completely ignored it because I’m an idiot—and the language here is rather searing, steeped in an emotion only emboldened by the exquisite execution of shifts in capitalization of letters, line breaks, that sort of thing.

“I snatched Derr’s cat up and held it by the neck-slack as Derr cut on my side: THIS BOY IS HEAT SUPPOSE THE EARTH UNDER ME TURNED WAXEN.

And Jean, between my shoulder blades: SUPPOSE I FEAR THE SAME FOR MYSELF. The sunlight on her blanket showed where my blood, in different darknesses, had freckled it over time.” (135)

MISTAKEN ANATOMY/RIVER DRIFTING
Laura A. Vena

A definite coda for the entire collection, if you can imagine elements of all the aforementioned pieces coming together along with a romantic account of a Huckleberry Finn-esque adventure, you’d be close to what Vena manages to do in a relatively short amount of time/space. It’s here that one of the best moments of outside commentary occurs, when the story has effectively finished, and Benjamin comes out to say “Or, in drowning, in flight,” and this in contrast to the perceived dying described by Vena moments earlier, gives hope, perhaps, and encourages that endlessness I’ve likely beaten to death as a concept within these pages. The ideas within OON are many, and sprawling to the ends of earth and beyond the histories of those living, and yet containing the entirety of the thing is a very earnest set of human hands; giving a reading experience that is not only at once more intellectually stimulating that anything I’ve read of this sort in years, but comforting, and entertaining as all hell.

***