J Wang


J. Wang is a writer, artist, and musician based out of planet earth. Her writings on literature, art, film, music, theory, politics, and culture can be read on her blog Ballerinas Dance with Machine Guns. Email her at loneberry (at) gmail (dot) com.

Thoughts on Masha Tupitsyn’s LACONIA, cultural criticism, the excesses of a text, minimalist critique, and living vicariously through film

When I first read Masha Tupitsyn’s hybrid-genre book Beauty Talk and Monsters (Semiotexte), I was completely floored by it. So I was excited to read her new book LACONIA: 1,200 Tweets on Film (Zero Books)a book of aphoristic film and media commentary written in the spirit of cultural observers like Chris Marker. There is something beautiful about Masha’s way of “reading” culture, how she honors the connections and resonances of the media she encounters, the way it is processed, assimilated and re-invented when it is filtered through her perception; intermingling with specific memories and preoccupations. Masha integrates the subjective and the critical in a way that demonstrates the specificity of our encounters with media.  Both Beauty Talk and LACONIA could be described as a literary approach to film criticism, but it’s also fitting to describe the works as a cinematic approach to literary writing. In Beauty Talk, narrative and a criticism are tightly interwoven. As stories, the essays are stunning; as critical analysis, sharp. Masha’s recent book LACONIA reminds me of the ways in which the viewer is also a meaning-maker, a participant critic.



“Postmodern irony means never having to say you are sorry. Or that you are serious.”
–Suzanne Moore, Looking for Trouble

Cultural studies is on the rise. The canon is dying, or at least is seriously ill. Critics are now turning their attention to the media that surrounds them—sitcoms, Hollywood films, magazines, pop music, kitsch, reality TV, fashion trends, internet memes. Repulsed by the academic elitism of cultural criticism as well as the notion that there are certain texts that are unworthy of the critic’s attention, the proponents of cultural studies have launched a vitriolic attack on the hierarchical distinction between high culture and low culture. The exclusion of “low” and popular culture and the privileging of refined culture and art that caters to a specialized/trained audience has its problems: it reinforces the idea that art is an “autonomous” institution while implicitly promoting classism, eliminating the perspective of lower class folk and ignoring subaltern cultural production and engagement (Adorno famously denounced jazz music).


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August 23rd, 2011 / 8:33 pm

Ontology of the Cat Poet


Witness my house’s cat George Jackson pen his magnum opus. Below are some notes provided by Susan Sontag from her essay on Marina Tsvetaeva titled “A Poet’s Prose.”


Being a poet is to define oneself as, to persist (against odds) in being, only a poet.
Actually, the frontier between prose and poetry has become more and more permeable — unified by the ethos of maximalism characteristic of the modern artist: to create work that goes as far as it can go.

Homage to others is the complement to accounts of oneself: the poet is saved from vulgar egoism by the strength and purity of his or her admirations.
Poet’s prose is mostly about being a poet. And to write such autobiography, as to be a poet, requires a mythology of the self. The self described is the poet self, to which the daily self (and others) is often ruthlessly sacrificed. The poet self is the real self, the other one is the carrier; and when the poet self dies, the person cat dies. (To have two selves is the definition of a pathetic fate.) Much of the prose of poets—particularly in the memoiristic form—is devoted to chronicling the triumphant emergence of the poet self. (In the journal or diary, the other major genre of poet’s prose, the focus is on the gap between the poet and the daily self, and the often untriumphant transactions between the two. The diaries—for example, Baudelaire’s or Blok’s—abound with rules for protecting the poet self; desperate maxims of encouragement; accounts of dangers, discouragements, and defeats.)
In prose the poet is always mourning a lost Eden; asking memory to speak, or sob.
All of Tsvetaeva’s George’s work is an argument for rapture; and for genius, that is, for hierarchy: a poetics of the Promethean.
To be a poet is a state of being, elevated being: Tsvetaeva George speaks of her his love for “what is highest.”
There is the same quality of emotional soaring in her his prose as in her his poetry: no modern writer takes one as close to an experience of sublimity.

Craft Notes & Random / 4 Comments
August 4th, 2011 / 7:33 am

Friederike Mayröcker and some scattered thoughts on writing spaces

Friederike Mayröcker

Look at this clutter. Kind of glorious, no?

Is a messy mind the mark of a good writer or is that something dysfunctional people tell themselves in order to find comfort in the heaps of scattered pages? What is your writing space like? I don’t really have one, as I’m always on the move these days. I will say that it’s hard for me to sit at a desk. The closest I ever came to incorporating a desk into my erratic work routine was when I would go to IHOP in the middle of the night and stay until morning downing cup after cup of decaff coffee while scribbling in my notebook all bleary-eyed and delirious. But if it were socially sanctioned, I probably would have sat on the IHOP floor. Mostly I do everything while lying down in my invisible bed or sitting on the floor, perhaps because I am lazy…? I don’t believe in furniture. Probably am just undomesticated, feral. At a writing residency last year I had a normal room with a desk and a bed. And what did I do? Pulled the mattress onto the floor and probably didn’t sit at the desk once.

“I MUST FORGET EVERYTHING in order to finish this work, you have to get yourself in harness, no enmeshed, once you get involved in a writing project a writing diktat, there is no going back, or everything will be ruined, isn’t that right, maybe it’s getting your claw hooked into the robe of language, you attach yourself, you get snared, you get snagged in language in the MATERIAL in the TEXTURE, etc., and in the same way language seems to get hooked, attached, it hooks its claws into us the moment we acquiesce, so, we lead we guide each other, in equal measure . . .”
–Friederike Mayröcker, brütt, or The Sighing Gardens

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June 14th, 2011 / 2:56 am

I remember seeing the words: “now you are the fastest piglet in the county.”

Bhanu Kapil writes “I remembers” with fourth graders
. These children are brilliant. Magic. Geniuses.

I remember when I would write poetry in elementary school. Every couple months our class would have a showcase. Our parents would come. We would display our talents. I would always read an original poem. They were often about seasons and candy (what else is new)…and the relationship between seasons and candy (candy corn–so autumn). I was proud that I didn’t have to use a rhyming dictionary to write my poems and the kids would say, “One day you’ll be a famous poet. One day you’ll have a huge book of poems!” One time I tried to do a piano recital but got nervous and fucked up. So I thought, I should stick with the poems. And I’ve stuck with words all this time.

Highlights from Bhanu’s trip to Garfield Elementary School: I Remember: [1]

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April 24th, 2011 / 10:15 am

The Poetics of Non-Arrival: KAFKA

Illustration by Shaun Tan

“Am I a circus rider on two horses? Alas, I am no rider, but lie prostrate on the ground.”
–Franz Kafka in a letter to Felice Bauer, 1916

He was talking about the Jewish horse and the German horse
(But there is also the Czech horse.)
What horse did Kafka ride?
Where does Kafka belong?
Who owns Kafka? *

These sentences kill me.
Imagine: prostrate on the ground.
That’s what an exilic existence is like
Prostrate on the ground.
Living in the place that is no place
Riding the no horse
Going nowhere, only not-here
With no language
Never quite comfortable in any language. **

When the narrator in the story “My Destination” is asked where he is going
He says,

“I don’t know.”

“Away from here, away from here.”

“Always away from here, only by doing so can I reach my destination.”

Always away, never arriving. ***
Butler: “…the monstrous and infinite distance between departure and arrival….”

Kafka: “For it is, fortunately, a truly immense journey.”




* [I love this essay about Kafka by Judith Butler.]

** [Butler: “We find in Kafka’s correspondence with his lover Felice Bauer, who was from Berlin, that she is constantly correcting his German, suggesting that he is not fully at home in this second language. And his later lover, Milena Jesenská, who was also the translator of his works into Czech, is constantly teaching him Czech phrases he neither knows how to spell nor to pronounce, suggesting that Czech, too, is also something of a second language. In 1911, he is going to the Yiddish theatre and understanding what is said, but Yiddish is not a language he encounters very often in his family or his daily life; it remains an import from the east that is compelling and strange. So is there a first language here?”]

*** [Kafka: “Written kisses don’t reach their destination, rather they are drunk on the way by the ghosts.”]

Behind the Scenes & Craft Notes & Massive People & Random / 1 Comment
April 6th, 2011 / 7:52 pm

More on kinesthesia and writing

Knowing a woman’s mind & spirit had been allowed me, with dance I discovered my body more intimately than I had imagined possible. With the acceptance of the ethnicity of my thighs & backside, came a clearer understanding of my voice as a woman & as a poet. The freedom to move in space, to demand of my own sweat a perfection that could continually be approached, though never known, waz poem to me, my body & mind ellipsing, probably for the first time in my life.
— Ntozake Shange


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April 4th, 2011 / 7:45 am

Depression and the Kinesthetic Theory of Writing

Photo by Viennese artist Eva Schlegel

Sometimes the holy writing spirit possesses you.
There’s no summoning it. I’m beginning to understand that now.
There are conditions
There are kinesthetic conditions
There’s running downhill in the park as the rain approaches and the top of your head flies off like a hat getting blown away by a gust of wind.
There is inside the sensation of bodies touching bodies that move toward each other bodies that approach trembling but without fear.
There’s the orange light in the rain-paved streets and the stranger under the bridge.
Hello stranger I am lost.

These are things I cannot generate my own, alone in a room.
There are kinesthetic conditions
Sore muscle conditions
And the understanding that the more I move,
The more I will be able to access the world.


Behind the Scenes & Craft Notes & Random / 11 Comments
April 2nd, 2011 / 9:59 pm

For the shit genre!

Opening my notebook the morning after a night of woozy ambien scribbling is like opening a present: you never know what’s inside. Today there was a note that said, “Beckett—101-2. Shit genre.”

Here is the passage I noted. It’s from Samuel Beckett’s first play Eleuthéria, which was disowned by the Beckett Estate.

Dr. Piouk: What does he do?
Mme. Meck: (With pride) He is a man of letters.
Dr. Piouk: You don’t say! (Enter M. Krap. He reaches his armchair and cautiously sits down)
M. Krap: You were saying nice things about me, I feel it.
Mme. Meck: There isn’t anything the matter with her?
M. Krap: She is unharmed.
Mme. Meck: She is coming?
M. Krap: She’s getting ready for that.
Mme. Piouk: There was a time when you were unaffected.
M. Krap: At the cost of what artifice!
Dr. Piouk: You are a writer, Monsieur?
M. Krap: What gives you leave to–
Dr. Piouk: It can be felt in the way you express yourself.
Mme. Piouk: Where has she been?
Mme. Meck: She is going to tell us.
M. Krap: I will be frank with you. I was a writer.
Mme. Meck: He is a member of the Institute!
M. Krap: What did I tell you.
Dr. Piouk: What genre?
M. Krap: I don’t follow you.
Dr. Piouk: I speak of your writings. Your preferences were for what genre?
M. Krap: For the shit genre.
Mme. Piouk: Really.
Dr. Piouk: Poetry or prose?
M. Krap: One day the former, another day the latter.
Dr. Piouk: And you now deem your body of work to be complete?
M. Krap: The lord has flushed me out.
Dr. Piouk: A small book of memoirs does not tempt you?
M. Krap: That would spoil the death throes.
Mme. Meck: Admit that this is a bizarre way to treat guests.
Mlle. Skunk: Extremely odd.

The shit genre. I love that. I’m stealing that. Whenever someone asks me what genre I prefer I will tell them, “The shit genre, of course.” You’ve never heard of it? You must not know much about literature. (Like Beckett’s characters, I sometimes fantasize about getting sassy with “legitimate” types….)


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March 31st, 2011 / 3:02 pm


I just logged into the Brown application website to try to view my MFA rejection letter. It’s no longer there. I am wondering where it went. My status is simply “submitted” and no longer rejected. Could my rejection have been revoked? No, probably not. There is probably a demon in their system affording me this glimmer of false hope—like dreaming of your crush putting the moves on you. The first thing I actually thought was, “What am I going to tell my parents?” They are used to me always being “the best” and are far more invested in my success than I am. I told them not to get their hopes up. I put together a typo-filled portfolio the night before it was due because I was visiting my mom who was in the hospital from a suicide attempt and applying to grad school was the last thing on my mind. But I had an application waiver, so I sent it off with a statement that basically said, “I’m sorry this is bad. My life is a wreck right now.”

Luckily, I copy and pasted the rejection letter into my long poem before it disappeared:

Behind the Scenes & Craft Notes & Random / 82 Comments
March 27th, 2011 / 8:08 pm

An open letter to Kevin Smith (aka Silent Bob) about silence and writing-as-shitting

Dear Kevin Smith,

You have a fucking radio show? That’s kind of hilarious because you were always the silent one. You were Silent Bob. You went from being pure body to pure voice. Why’d you do it, man? There was something philosophical about your silence, they way you were so expressive without saying anything. We all liked to imagine what you were thinking, how you were perceiving everything that was going on around you. There was a profound quality to your sparse interjections (because you never spoke, because of the scarcity of your words). The law of economics says that when demand exceeds supply, value increases. Maybe I should shut up. Maybe I should retreat into silence like you once did. Maybe then—only then—will people give a shit about any of this. Any of these words.

When you did speak, we felt lucky to be graced by your wise words. Because you never spoke, we felt like you were enlightened, like you were beyond language, like language was something the petty people did, and you did not need it. You were above all that, the way spiritual gurus are above food, the way they no longer need to satiate those earthly desires. You didn’t need to feed the part of the body that longs for recognition. You were a watcher, an observer. Everyone around you was always blabbering on and on, but you didn’t feel the need to fill up space in the same way. You know, most people feel anxious about silence. It’s the hardest thing, to live in silence. You can’t just “be” next to someone. It makes you totally nuts to feel like you don’t know what they’re thinking. Maybe their silence means hatred. Maybe I’m fucking boring. So we talk on and on because we are afraid, because we need to know where the other person is at, because silence can mean anything and we need our interactions to be anchored in certainty.


Behind the Scenes & Craft Notes & Random / 6 Comments
March 17th, 2011 / 9:46 am