On Liminalities: The Hope From Within The Fire

How many kinds of in-betweens are there? How many in-betweens are habitable? How many levels of habitability are available to us? Made available.

I live in the East Bay. On the 12, or the 6, the 18 and the 52 or the 51B. They’re all numbers and lines, not categories. You can be coming or going, you can not know which, and yet you’re still there, at the intersection of multiform liminalities.

There is a schedule, I suppose. It isn’t a myth— more of a “fuzzy set,” a for-the-most-part or a you-get-the-idea— a drift or a gist. The liminality of not knowing the nature of the whats you’re between is more malleable than the words we give things like the people, places, or things we mark as limits. There is only a suggestion of mathematics, or: mathematics can only suggest the pure concept with which to articulate our various and sundry in-betweenesses. In so doing it deflates the pure concept not as useful or concrete but as crystalline, economic, a tool. Tool-like at most, maybe.

Lines and numbers. Signifiers, one to carry us over the other, to assure us that we’re here, or will be, or were, wherever those those things were. Are?

“I’ll be there ASAP,” I say, because possibility was what rendered that thereness possible in the first place, though I didn’t really know it: possible is the only way I’m able to be anywhere.

But that doesn’t make possibility a misnomer or a redundancy (the truth is something like the opposite, really), just that existing is only articulable as a tautological feedback loop of sorts: boring, maybe; banal, often; “duh,” mostly.

But I am on fire with the having been there. Perhaps reality wasn’t prepared for the scourge of our memory, history for the way we touch it, the world for what we can do with sex, what we can hold deep in our bodies, share with other bodies. I’d like to think that our erotic engagement with it at the very least ruffles the feathers of the world, but in its deepest sense my erotic engagement with the world doesn’t give a fuck. It, too, is a feedback loop of sorts: feeding itself on itself, burning-growing. Take that, world.

It’s in this sense, I think, that care comes not from an investment in the world, isn’t rooted in the world, doesn’t depend on the world. No, it bursts forth from the mad anti-physics of a fire that feeds and grows on itself, deep in our bellies. Additionally, I think the more we help each other let it, the more our madness will fight the world: push on it, nibble on it, dance on it, bite and scratch it, more verbs and, eventually— this is the hope from within the fire— replace it.

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A Matter Of A Series Of Squares (The University Was On Fire)

occupy mic check

Note: This is a bit of short fiction I first put together and published in my second ‘zine, COLORS MORE COLORS, back in 2015.

The University was on fire; was a matter of a series of squares (not circles) positioned with respect to their corresponding series of relationships and the overall picture that that painted, squares being circles with broken arms and legs, a tedium.  

The Professor found himself wondering if he could not not continue to think like this, perched on the brink of something something-like-new and nestled in the workings of some verb that was poised to end the brink-like sensation of its own activity. Simile was bringing things closer together than it was ever before capable of doing: his two remaining research assistants fucked each other constantly behind the thin curtain in the corner of his laboratory, the right and acute angles of various limbs clamoring for circleness, the arcs of moans.

Armed guards stood outside the laboratory The stale scent of a tenuous agreement between warring factions— coupled with a cold and constant influx of cash in the direction of the rebel students—  kept his space clear of the debris necessary to the conflict, but suggested that an inverted though yet still positive relationship existed between abundance and time. He felt himself swinging outward towards the apex of the logic of decay. They hadn’t left the laboratory in weeks.

Through the old window, from his sweaty cot, he could see the campanile burning like a torch in the night, hear the muffled pops of distant gunfire, taste the metal quality of the night air as it poured in through the three inches of open space between the sill and the sash.

He is an anachronism. The affect of the idea of the burning of pale limestone is of skin crawling.

The verb for the appearance of the existence of the first term was something like discover, or having been discovered. It seemed to have occurred quite by accident: a month ago he had been shuffling through smoke and fire, escorted by two armed students and clutching a hefty bundle of files that contained an assortment of necessary documents, when the retort of a single gunshot sounded the end of the first of the two students’ life. She fell silently. With a startled yell he remembered running, yells, more gunshots. Plunging through the gaping hole of the open door of the building in which his laboratory resided, he tripped and fell, his papers scattering in the foyer. With a kick he forced the door to, frantically swiveling his prostrate body around in order to push it completely closed, before managing to catch a glimpse of a police officer as he rummaged through the fallen students’ pockets, claimed their weapons, his own hot rifle lying nearby on the concrete. He could see the blood running in a curious fashion over the brickwork; it spelled the name of the first term.

The cries of orgasm were not present to him. Nor the sensation of sliding into sleep, exhausted.  Relative quiet filled the tall-ceilinged room with its ancient windows through which the light of fires and police lights pulsed.

It was somehow embedded in the first term that there would be three, that there would be a second and then a third and that once the second had been articulated the third would emerge as some new form of inevitability, whose verb in regards to reality would be something akin to a series: to reveal, to unlock, to transfigure. The and-then, then, was not so pressing as the task that now presented itself to him: the articulation of the second term.

From behind the curtain a figure emerged, a shadow in the dim light. It approached him, stooped low in order to dig through the sounds of a plastic bag, stood again, illuminated its face with the small flame of a cigarette lighter, in front of which now bobbed the tiny orange glow of a cigarette, a body half illuminated by a general light from without, half undisclosed by a specific darkness within.

As far as he could tell, there would have to be a relationship between the first and second terms, a sort of second order kind of term. A pale body lay on the cot behind the curtains. The first second order term would be something like an articulation, the need to be articulated. Cigarette smoke hung in the air above him, static, having made shapes. Would the specific articulation of the second term make its relationship to the first immediately evident?  Suddenly, the campanile collapsed under its own weight. Or should the articulation—  would the articulation—  itself lead him to the second term? Shouts and gunshots outside, nearby. How then would the third term emerge… ?

The sky seemed lighter. It must have been morning which means he must’ve fallen asleep.  

He’d once had a dream wherein he’d woken up, shuffled to the bathroom and looked into the mirror. The moment he saw himself there he realized that he was dreaming, woke up, and opened his eyes- which beheld only the ceiling from his vantage on the cot. Rousing himself, he shuffled to the bathroom, turned on the light and looked into the mirror, only to be reminded that he was still asleep and transported immediately back to his bed, once again falsely awakened.  Fearing that he was somehow caught in some sort of oneiric feedback loop, this time he lept off of the cot and ran into the bathroom, trying desperately not to remember what he’d just learned.  But it was useless: before he could even reach the threshold of the door to the darkened bathroom he awoke again, still dreaming on his cot. He learned two important things while stuck in the feedback loop: first that he could tell it was a dream by the fact that each succeeding reboot presented a reality to him that was visually dimmed by some sort of filter, as though a thin piece of colored cellophane was held before his face— a different color for each episode—  and one that deepened the darkness of the shadows of corners and the like. Secondly, he could tell that he was asleep by the muffled quality of the sound, as though an invisible pillow was wrapped around his head. He found that if he lay still he could hear the sound of his own, actual, breathing— still and trebly and far away. The greater the success he had in isolating the sound, the closer, he felt, he came to waking up. Interestingly, however, it wasn’t until he managed to make it to the faucet, turn it on, and splash a handful of water into his face that he was able to actually wake up.

It was an uncharacteristically sunny morning. He could see high white clouds travelling across a brilliant blue sky from where he lay. The massive double doors to the laboratory, he noticed, were slightly ajar. He moved quickly across the room, startled by the sure feeling that the adjacent room was vacant. Peeking through the crack he found that this was true— the guards must have left during the night. He stood still, as if doing so would help pierce through the ominous and growing silence. His research assistants were gone, their curtain pulled to, their cot still marked by the weight of their sleeping bodies. From window to window he moved, cautiously, but could see no sign of movement. Finally he emerged into the blinding morning light. There was no breeze, no sound of birds or distant traffic, no crackle of flame or of gunshots. The pale light fell on everything, everything was shiny.

Photograph: Students on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, on November 9th, 2011, during an Occupy demonstration. Photo by the author. 

The Un Dis Embodied Voice of Jacq Greyja’s GREATER GRAVE

[About two] year[s] ago now I had the pleasure of trading Jacq Greyja a couple of zines for an early draft of their [then] forthcoming collection of poems, GREATER GRAVE. I have been struck by how brilliant these poems are, and because of this I asked them if I could review it for the first issue of THE WHITE STAR READER, which I will be debuting tomorrow* (Sunday, August 3rd) at the 16th Annual San Francisco Zine Fest. So as a sort of celebration of Jacq and the fest and the debut of the WSR#1, here is a[n old] sneak peek at my review of Jacq Greyja’s brilliant GREATER GRAVE, available now from The Operating System. Also be sure to attend the release party at Alley Cat Books on August 10th!
jacq

I suppose that the experience of being physically arrested, for lack of a better word, is one of- if not the primary- reason people read poetry. I like to say that good poetry is like a hearty meal: it saturates you, surprises you with its combination of tastes and micro-experiences, leaves you breathless, even if you’re not over full. And yet it is a labor, it takes a certain amount of effort and even strategizing- when to eat what and in what order, when to take a drink, when to sit back and just feel your jaws moving over fare, marveling at the deep visceral sensation of the experience. There is some poetry that exceeds even this sort of analogy, that almost immediately affects one in such a profound way that even if the volume is small, it sits on your shelf or next to your bed or in your bag for a year- not because you’re not reading it, but because you can only handle snippets of it at a time. I know that I am waxing hyperbolic here, and also that one of the greatest characteristics of the best poetry is its ability to map and act out subtleties, the middle stuff of life, the stuff that is less easily apprehended precisely because it doesn’t operate at the extreme limits of sensation or registrability. What makes Jacq Greyja’s forthcoming Greater Grave so singularly exceptional is that it does both.

Greyja, a non-binary, mixed race, queer Latinx in their mid-twenties, is currently working on their Creative Writing MFA at San Francisco State University, after having earned their undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley, last spring. From their website:

“Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bettering American Poetry, Berkeley Poetry Review, The Fem, Apogee Journal Folio, Gravel Magazine, Columbia Poetry Review, Yes Poetry, The Nottingham Review, and MISTRESS. Their collage work was recently featured in ‘Not Even’: Poets Make Collage at Bushel Collective in Delhi, NY. Jacq is currently completing two chapbook manuscripts: Ejecta Ejecta, the winning manuscript in Where Are You Press’ 2016 poetry contest, and Greater Grave, forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press in late 2017.”

As you can see, they’re already prolific. And I, for one, am happy for this, already feeling blessed to have been given a sneak peek at Greater Grave, and already looking forward to whatever is next. I will need some time, however, to spend with Greater Grave.

Greater Grave is an excellent example of the sort of fantastic possibilities I talk about in the essay in this first issue of The White Star Reader*, first, because it works tirelessly to disrupt its own surface, secondly because it relentlessly problematizes relations between things.

Greater Grave has a singular texture, and that texture bears the traces of architecture- that is: it bears sort of signature of its own labor. It makes me feel as though the aforementioned tirelessness with which it works bears the marks of the author’s actual tiredness- that is: it feels like an expenditure. A precious expenditure, like the substance of actual labor rather than a product of labor. I want to say that this is why its texture feels so profound and uncanny: it is as though that which is impossible to make into an object has been given the sensual qualities of an object, like tasting a movement or smelling a sentence.

I’m going to have a hard time moving past talking about the very first poem, whose title “Progress still controls us even in tales of ruination.” -Anna Tsing already displays a sense of the competing vectors mentioned in this issue’s essay: here there are two vectors- two movements- one towards the good (progress) and one towards the bad (ruination) whose coupling calls into question the assertion that the vector of “progress” was ever ‘good’ in the first place. This simple, structuring juxtaposition displays a good deal of the entirety of Greater Grave’s function: to show the brittleness of single signifiers, in this case progress, where a simple placing it in relation to something else can show the multiform fissures of its foundation. But this is the most simple example of this function, as the poem to which the quote serves as a title immediately begins to unravel a number of constellatory relations between things, creating what seems like an objectless allegory: a moving metaphor without a single static node along which its mechanisms function.

First, the structure of relations between the lyric subject and the things within them are structured by desire:

          wanting to edit this memory           I interject

          that I recall feeling not liberated/…

Second, that an impossibility- the prospect of editing one’s memory- is presented as a possibility. This possibility is followed by a broad space, a pointed lack, wherein the reader is implicated in their relation to the lyric “I,” as one who can never be sure to what extent that which they are able to remember or apprehend has been edited: what was in that space before either the edit or the desire to edit it? Why does the word edit feel like the word delete? Because both are impossible, strictly speaking?

Not only does this lyric “I” feel or simply “recall feeling,” but it “interjects” the assertion- an assertion that is weak not only because it is three verbs (interject, recall, feel) away from something other than what it is claiming, but because it follows immediately after the caesura of the possible having-been-edited-memory, which feels like an actual, although negative, interjection. It’s weakness, however, becomes a moot point, when we learn that that which the voice claims to have recalled is the negative of something it doesn’t believe in anyway, now a double negative:

          reverting

          back before I dis member

          I forgot that I disbelieved in liberation

The location of all of these things- feelings, the voice itself, whatever the memory is- in relation to each other are thrown into the mysteriously unknowable past: the voice recalls feeling (from when to when?), but reverts (to before when?)- to “back before I dis member,” where all of the sudden to remember- taken as such both because of swift reading and the fact that before one forgets one exists in a state of remembering- is to take apart a body, and somehow now seems to have always meant to dis-RE-member, which semantically amounts to the word “forget,” only with a double modifier: the negation (dis) + a return/ repetition (re) + the verb for “put together.” This is the formal and semantic mechanism of the uncanny, wherein something means one thing and as well as its opposite. The double movement of the competing vectors of ruination and progress which structure the poem are therefore shown to have many more moving parts, necessary tributaries, possible functionalities, and sophisticated middle mechanisms and textures than the now seemingly oversimplified binary heuristic of the title- while it all seems to remain contained within it.

And this in the first five lines of the first poem of the book. But the reader doesn’t come to know the placeless map of constant movement through the act of mapping, which I assume requires a static terrain. Greater Grave, a map of movements, so to speak, is apprehended via the affect produced by the troubled and fluxing relations of and to other relations, by the feeling of being arrested, the sort of paused-with-an-over-large breath inside your chest that needs to get out. It feels felt because it feels embodied, and therein lies one of its greatest characteristics: that this lyric “I,” the I that dis/ remembers and wants and from which the poems of Greater Grave emerge and which Greater Grave never denies, affirms the continued possibility, plausibility, and political necessity of the lyrical poem, of the poetic voice of suffering subjects in the world, of the sort of broken utopian dreams that come from this sort of post//post/postmodern subject, this re-embodied (un-dis-embodied?) voice.

 

“The Dome of Being Seen,” In Memoriam: Ren Hang (1987-2017)

RH 2016 05

there are no edges
to the light
of apprehension
as a sort of capture
a kind of remembering

whether or not
one realizes
it’s there
is a question

whether or not
it is there
is also
a question

(I want to say
that something about
the experience
becomes a convexing out
from the navel
as some sort of
center of being that
has as its central
principle seeing
an orbish projection
that wants the light
and isn’t concerned
with the exact
location of that towards
which the light as
seeing is presumed
to be something like
focused on –
or emanating from-
there is only a fuzzy
center of gravity)
the light-seeing wants
to touch

maybe that’s why
there’s so much pubic hair
in these photographs

maybe that’s why
pubic hair

light seeing
wanting to touch
close orbits

RH 2015 03

2.

the possibilities
inherent in
the miscellaneous
assembly of bodies
doesn’t necessarily
negate ennui
and ennui
doesn’t necessarily
negate that
which its anxiety
covers up as an
unnameable threat
which we now
know is simply
a lack

bodies fit together
here
red nail polish
writing words like
‘proximity’ on the
dome of being seen

the proximity of parts

the analysis
of an assemblage
that de-emphasizes
the stable identity
of that which comes
together
and begins instead
with the significance
of the proximity
of their parts
as though
that which came
together to enable
said proximity was
merely
a side-effect
a memory of
what used to be

what really happened

RH 2016 01

3.

therefore that
which was behind
has come to the fore:

bedroom walls
high rise suburbs

if I hold an animal
it’s so you’ll see
how different my skin
can be
according to its
proximity to certain
parts of my body

taught, purple
darkened crease
exploding with hair
luminous

however it is
is somewhere between
celebrated and holy

however it is, is
and my vision pushes
on the language
of smell, or of taste

blood as the shape
of words

RH 2013 01

for my dissertation
I will hold a peacock
in the nude

RH 2014 02

all images via RenHang.Org

Jane Gregory’s Virtual World

A quick report on a practice job talk/ reading given by poet Jane Gregory at the English Department at UC Berkeley on Thursday, January 12th.

jane-gregory

I met Jane Gregory because we’re both smokers- or used to be, or sometimes are. Before it was anathema to smoke on campus, we’d cross paths at the usual smokers’ haunts around Wheeler Hall. I can’t remember how it happened but I eventually learned that she was a poet, and the next time we crossed paths she gave me a copy of her (then) new book, MY ENEMIES, which I’ve read over multiple times.

It feels like I say this a lot, which- if it’s true- must mean that I’m actually fairly lucky, though mainly I’m interested in whether or not other people experience the same thing: that thing where you meet somebody, find out they’re a writer, request and receive a copy of their work, all the while worrying that it’s going to be shit and you’re going to have to either lie, tell the truth, or just avoid that person forever. Anyway the thing I say a lot (usually to my partner, after I’ve met a new writer) is something along the lines of “I was worried that their work would suck but it’s actually really engaging” or something like that. The other option is that I’m incredibly uncritical, which I really don’t think is the case. Now of course comes the question: how many people are avoiding me because they’re read my writing, and hate it? I make an attempt to solicit bad reviews/ honest opinions, or at least I try (to remember) to, but I somehow think that taking me up on the offer is more awkward for more people than the above mentioned options. Which is to say, of course, that Jane Gregory’s work is really, really good, and I highly recommend it.

Gregory’s poetry succeeds in the same mode in which Daniel Owen’s fails, though to be fair hers is a more extreme version of the sort of poetry that manipulates its own surface- what with her plethora of slashes, back-slashes, parentheses, and de-etymologization of words via intentional misspellings, etc. The success of Gregory’s reading at the English Department at UC Berkeley on Thursday night had to do with- not unlike the similar but different success of the readings at SPD the night before- the hovering about a nexus of possible thresholds across which material was or was not disclosed, or promised to be disclosed and then withheld, and how the non-apprehension of things like gloss-data or marginalia or footnote like meta-data translates into a certain (aural/ oral) knowing unknowing- and whether or not this was a question of the virtual (Gregory’s claim) or the negative (via a comment from the audience).

What I mean to say is there was a whole lot of material that Gregory told us was there, on the podium or the page, but that she wasn’t going to or wouldn’t read to us. There were material reasons for this: this reading was really a practice job talk, in preparation for a visit with a prominent midwestern university (good luck Jane!), and so she was flying by night, as they say (I think), trying to find out what would work and what wouldn’t. In the end, I felt as though this was perfect: the uncertainty about what was desired led to an uncertainty in regards to not only what was or wasn’t really there, but where (podium or page?), and why something was or wasn’t there. All this is to say that Gregory’s poetry functions to perform the same work: in it’s increasingly fine distinction-making as made possible by the above mentioned plethora of surface markers, it sort of relentlessly slides about its own possibilities, all the while sort of displaying its own ability to agent distinctions or make judgements or claims in the world.

I was happy that she chose to read a number of her “BOOK I WILL NOT WRITE” poems, a series of poems that challenge the idea of a series on a number of levels (that she also spoke about during her reading). There are eight, I believe, such poems in MY ENEMIES, though interestingly enough she didn’t read the first one, which also happens to be my favorite. These poems are shot through with carefully constructed uncertainties: a) they claim to be a book, which they are not, 2) they claim to be one, which they are not (they are many), 3) they claim they are not written, or will not be written, but they are, 4) they fill out their given margins- are justified- but said margins fall short of normative prose/ book practice (again, defying bookishness). Their content performs similarly: the first BOOK (she) WILL NOT WRITE (see photo) couples its own motives for being written (“I must and know how to”) with the reasons behind that motive: “because it helps you.” The antecedent for this “it” is both either and/ or both because she “must” AND knows “how” to. It’s a both/ and situation, and affirmation, a yes that threads its way through the whole series as a contrariety with its own uncertainty.

jg-book-i-will-not-write

This is fitting because Gregory kept mentioning, in her talk, the virtual, which amounted to those pieces that she didn’t read, or wasn’t going to read, or didn’t want to read, or decided she didn’t have time to read, or that she mentioned as not going to be read on purpose (without the intention of ever reading them (we’ll never know)). All of these came to occupy the space of the virtual in that Deleuzian sense of things not there/ revealed, but that exist in a sort of adjacent field, nearby and as-of-yet undisclosed, while the presence of their absence yet puts pressure on experience. This is the virtuality that Deleuze tried to articulate up to and against (that space of) the negative, which at least one member of the audience misidentified Gregory’s virtual space for: the significance isn’t that something was effaced or ever had the option of not being there, but that all these not-theres were carefully arranged in a virtual spectrum of sorts- from not being mentioned at all to being specifically mentioned as NOT there- and comprised just as much of the experience of the poetry as the read words, the spoken ones, the positives. Gregory’s work therefore does what the most sophisticated poetry-as-a-mode-of-thinking does: it articulates the mechanics of what to an untrained eye might simply seem like inference- that gap between the distinctions it can and does make in the world, and the virtual significances that fueled its own ability to do so.