Felix Bernstein’s Response to Vanessa Place, Slavoj Žižek, Trisha Low, and more

 

bella in the middle

 

Beyond Vampires and Zombies

An Essay by Felix Bernstein

Vanessa Place’s latest manifesto “Zombie Poetry”[1] accurately frames her modus operandi: to glorify (and sanitize) Freud’s death drive (in which, doomed to never get what you want, satisfactory pleasure becomes impossible), over and against eros (the principle of maximizing pleasure). She provides a didactic demonstration of the death drive by casting herself in the role of Thanatos, a self-proclaimed undead zombie, feeding off (appropriating) the naïve pleasure of those feebleminded creatures who attempt to maximize pleasure, lecturing us that our notion of satisfaction and of mastery is a lie. Place is largely influenced by the famous schtick of Lacanian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, who is a master of belittling the part of us that believes we will find fulfilling objects. His refrain, like the song, is you can’t get what you want but you can get what you need, with this kicker: what you need is an unpleasant excess in the object of your desire that serves as a reminder/remainder of that which is denied in sexual relationships. This unpleasant excess, so-named “the kernel of the real,” can be found as the remainder of fantasies and mathematical equations To extract this rem(a)inder, you must read between the lines of speech, strictly under the Lacanian rubric. Then you will always find this same truth: the split subject, barred from accessing its full desire; in other words, the truth is the failure of desire. And this truth will always be delivered, for it is universally applicable.

For Place, those ‘poets’ who have not taken the conceptual turn that she prescribes, are in the thrall of a silly fantasy that our words might matter before they are decoded, analyzed, or appropriated by a master-analyst. [2]. This is her charge against those poets who have not sufficiently removed themselves from the craft of voicing desire. But also, more troubling, the voices that Place appropriates (the dumb college jokes, the early feminist dogmas, the victim’s testimony) all are framed as being (in their original utterances) naively unaware of the critical discourse into which she is happy to drag them. Those who take on the ‘voices of others,’ be they infused by the traditions of Language or Flarf or New York School poetics [or romanticism or camp or punk] will for Place indulge in an ideological fantasy that does not properly recognize or critique itself. But we all indulge a bit now and then, don’t we? And so it is only human (in the ‘living breathing’ sense) that now, in “Zombie Poetry” when the prospect of Place herself losing relevance enters the scene, that she can finally ask us to be concerned about the personal, the tragic, and the autobiographical, at the expense of the comic and universal. Now, she begs, we ought to look at her particular case, her particular deadpan style, her “I’m melting” bathos, and feel for her! That is, we ought to feel for the woman who is unfeeling.

Indeed, those who do feel for Place now, those who do still recognize her as a mother to their art, but refuse to follow her dogmatically, even those followers, she ridicules for being stupid enough to ‘pay her’ to fulfill this role. By her own calculations, it is inconsequential whether or not one ‘likes’ Vanessa Place, for ‘liking’ is merely a dumb, naïve, response, suitable for social media. It only matters whether or not one is driven to her. And she will, indeed, find that many will be driven her way. And driven by a death drive that is, unlike the one late Freud describes, vaguely pleasant. That is because it is nothing other than a performance of death drive, in the skilled manner of Place or Zizek, it is intelligible, hip, ironic, and stripped of any great dangers. It is in fact more optimistic, gung-ho, communal, and ego-affirming than those arts that indulge openly in true eros. It does not threaten civilization or even make us better understand its discontents. Rather, such performance of thanatos smoothly valorizes what might otherwise have been disruptive, if it were rendered with aesthetic brilliance instead of uncompromising didactic un-deadness.

The vampiric persona has long been iconic of positive, sympathetic, communal identification with the death drive. This identification goes beyond “Garbo is the best” because it is also ” “Garbo’s coldness is our coldness.” Even when nakedly announced in Freudian terms, the death drive is often used as communally binding tool; for example, Lee Edelman’s No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, a revered book in the literary academy (not to mention in the cults around Freud, Zizek, and Lacan). The art world and the pop world, epitomized by Warhol or Lady Gaga, respectively, has found numerous ways to cash in on such glamorous thanatos; but too often the result is art that has zero stakes in its self-conscious display of determinately empty signifiers. Such vampiric signifying feeds on the flesh of signifiers, styles, and dialects that remains alive for those “others” from whom they are appropriated. The vampire thrives via the necrotizing of living symbols for the purpose of galvanizing cash and social mobility. This is why Claire Bishop can praise ‘dark, critical, negativity’ in art (and find Conceptual Poetry to be perfectly negative), all the while, attempting unabashedly to usher these ‘negative’ new forms of art in to the halls of high commodities, with her critical stamp of approval writ large. Of course, such ‘negativity,’ as Zizek or Place or Gaga or Warhol offers, is only as ‘negative’ as it is completely intelligible to art audiences, and it will be forever intelligible because it has no ambivalence about using the signifier, ruthlessly, to prove its point (which is, after all, nothing more than to show that the empty signifier trumps what is conservatively viewed to be an authentic display of desire). But maybe the simplest example to look to, for now, is Twilight, where young Bella, ambivalent about how to register affect, ends up choosing the learned, urbane, death drive of the vampires over and against the dumb, rural, pleasure principle of the werewolves. Which one would you pick? It must be hard being a young post-feminist!

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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}”

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Derrida & Animals

As I was saying to Darby recently, after he commented over at my spot about the frequency of my posting artworks of human-animal hybridity, in academia right now Animals are all the rage.

A recent edition of PMLA focused on Animal Studies, and a glance at the Penn CFP page reveals a growing number of conferences on the topic of Animals in literature, art, politics, etc.

Further proof of this growing trend can be seen in the rise of websites like The Inhumanities, as well as the swarm of books being published on the topic, including this new book of Derrida’s lectures being release on November 1st by University of Chicago Press:

The Beast and the Sovereign, Volume 1 launches the series with Derrida’s exploration of the persistent association of bestiality or animality with sovereignty. In this seminar from 2001–2002, Derrida continues his deconstruction of the traditional determinations of the human. The beast and the sovereign are connected, he contends, because neither animals nor kings are subject to the law—the sovereign stands above it, while the beast falls outside the law from below. He then traces this association through an astonishing array of texts, including La Fontaine’s fable “The Wolf and the Lamb,” Hobbes’s biblical sea monster in Leviathan, D. H. Lawrence’s poem “Snake,” Machiavelli’s Prince with its elaborate comparison of princes and foxes, a historical account of Louis XIV attending an elephant autopsy, and Rousseau’s evocation of werewolves in The Social Contract.