Reading the new issue of Action, Yes
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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”:
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.