Archive for September, 2010

September 30, 2010

“JS Bach” by Kevin Yatsko

The rock and the stars, the rain and the ruin,

the candles that are lit, the kids that come out,

the harpsicord player that I know hath so little

to write about. From Eisenach to Ohrdruf I travel

from Luneburg to Weimar I see. Without the feather

and ink and paper, why come to Anstadt and Mulhausen,

why come to Weimar again. You pack your hymns and

concertos and are off for Kothen up north. What is a penny

in your pocket, when you have a condition for beauty.

Where is Leipzig, where is death for you, my harpsichord player?


Call for submissions

September 28, 2010

Call for Submissions!

"Ima sew yo asshole closed and keep feedin you...and feedin you...and feedin you" - Method Man

We are still looking for quality written and visual arts submissions to feature in our inaugural print issue. As of right now we’ve narrowed it down to two small presses to publish MODULOMAG through, with it being mostly a question of quality vs. quantity as the deciding factor. As we’ve said, we are looking for poetry, short fiction and essayistic prose, along with visual art. As far as online content is concerned, we would be glad to feature articles and opinion pieces, along with full color art and photography, on a rolling basis, as we have done so far. At any rate, we want to thank those of you who have taken the time and effort to submit work and take a chance on our little effort, and to become part of the adventure, for it will all pay off in the end with a finished product. We look forward to reading your work!

Please visit our submissions page for further details.


O & M

“American Grotesque: a suite” by Michael Brown

September 28, 2010
Note on text and images: this particular sequence of poems dates from late 2007 to late 2008. The images stem from a trip I made to visit my aunt in Davenport, Iowa in April 2008. Given the recent electoral incumbencies of the so-called “Tea Party,” along with the GOP in general, I thought it might be pertinent to post these not-so-subtle “critiques” of Our New American Populism. -mike

American Grotesque: a suite

I. Iowa Cake

Home, dreamt through the brackets

in traffic, in days after school after torture;

we, who love the shroud in a two-story cave,

marry the over-seer cooking up false proteins

as the dead reverse eye beams our scenes,

representing our lives as an alien might.


New lines take caste to the indian field

by drill-bitten road, as the foreman’s shift

gives way to the incoming district communicator,

the president’s one-way transmission.


Shopping the chaotic clothing from a bin

of rustic subsidiaries, the head is di[l]a[t]led

a fiend’s polemic as any in politics.


I’m just going home, home on the range,

on the strip through unmodern cornstubble dreams

where legendarily the buffalo were killed,

their meat in 50+ brands, for us prepackaged

and served with mashed potatoes and tobacco

for 100.000.000 Queen Liz’ delighting…

we finally let ourselves eat cake…

……………… no no, maybe diet cake…cake lite…

we’re not peasants, remember


O Waitress O Miss O Miss Waitress


A poet in its megastore: “Paris is fabulous…”

in with sick acoustics,

………………..spirited to[-]day’s novel

from the anus pillow of Historical French Sodomy.


Cinematic dream of a prime summer—

Pocahontas’ un-child-supported birth and passage

through these ageless, volatile arms,

savage to any age, in its imprint—

whence the clock of the sky is made

………………..and the white man gets horny.


(…But Tomb Thumb always loses

………………………………….his own race.)


The sky pristine that is death

corresponds so photogeneously with the gnarled bones

aching in April, imminent with charade


(I am interested in what makes this sentiment possible.)


that inflects your feet, after the fall O ♪ Ma ♫ O ♪ Pa ♫

‘My people humble people’ kinda people,

their bone to pick with biography masquerade.


Take the silo-tower and its emblematics

for the penny trash of this grocer-to-life:

take the cappuccino pour it down rain it down

the rusted tracks—

………………..what is defunct amidst

this placental fluid for the young?

What do broken bridges over mainstreet’s

ancient façade mean?





Adonis shops the thong aisle for Persephone

……………………………..“fuck dat otha bitch”

She’s a terminal bronze,

………………..despite nudity in dandelion.

His smiling archaic semen

………………..Aegean gene dropped in earth,

sprouting teeth at the tech aisle, coalesced

to talk to that one hot chick reading the I Ching.

May we rise in trees inspiring fake firewood.

Plastic and/or moving soldiers,

………………………………….conscripted to boardgames—

rooted and/or rootless—fuck it, let’s have us

………………..some cake!



II. Preternatural History

King is Big King Good King but

just another fly on the wall;

I’ve tasted most things, already,

………………..I’ve made up my mind

in a black dinner gown or jeans

and seen my friends in uniform for Big King’s guns

one death is enough for them all dead.

Baghdadi roads, roads they know why

…………………………… they ask why we don’t—

a statue, statue is to museum

as Roman is to white, white that is

………………..the rotten core, marble imperial,

under once painted skin and tunic, supposedly,

and the blood painted on sword and lance

gone also with the color of eyes.

………………..Whether theirs is not known.

Who paints, sculpts? King is King’s men

to frame his window. Drive on, drive on.

……………………………..Do clothe, due clothe.

Can’t I make up my mind, in uniform,

a father just to me his child

though his majority justifies their rule—

he says that if there’s more of him

……………………………..and less of you

he wins and you lose—with a “goodnight, son.”

“I love you.” Big King takes you,

he pumps your heart already,

sings in your voice while sleeping and

can’t they make up your mind looting a museum,

……………………………..little sleeping kings

recount their clothes, friends: plastic bottle pillar

flex no museum [sic], ‘at exhibition’,

………………..the note read, ‘gone all century’.

Banal viola, dead composers compose

rank and file an oft Swabian pastoral; ‘my friends’

is compost; sub-clothes in-heart; heard Chopin in the cradle

with Strauss pissing in the Donau in their grave.

‘Ýou’re not American’ the note read in French.

‘You can lick me on my ass’ then in German.

A biblical atlas, Bethlehem wants ta knoe

…………………………“where ya from?”

Calvary audits and invests your world and stuff, wants ta knoe

…………………………………………..“how much ya own?”

Clothe due to invisible sex, not “keep warm” or

………………………………….“genitals caught in thicket.”

Plunge into soil, some dyed sword; minds are made in

museum; excuse to oil; dead friend corpsed-out

and white marble swords dug-up minus

painted blood. Big King objective rites-to,

Good King helps kids be gone and tells roads to

take a number and wait in line with what they know.

Pergamon in Berlin on a cornice in Washington—

twinkle in a dyeing eye, eye on TV

hitherto objectives and getting the job done;

the job a Roman statue,

………………………………….Greek barf,

percolated (“what does that word mean?”) through the

…………………………………………………………..palace ballroom

and dragged through the mud of villages to stir-fry the

taxonomy of material. Yet, minus pantheon—like ‘invisible sex’—

………………..King’s no King but mirror plus desire;

will-to-be-no-King takes a King to do

and made up minds depend on what is walked on.

The bones of either Friendly Fired’s, Teutonic Knights,

Cartoons of Arabia or Crushed Beer Cans. Movie title:

What am I doing to the Little Boy I once was? Or,

………………..How I Fucked Myself on TV: an Elegy.

(Defeat at Poitiers, Europe left to rapaciousness.)

Ensuing world is oiled, strung with a friend’s will-to-be-

over-and-done-with; Atlas, postscript, museum not Cool

……………………………………………….but are what spell it.

Can’t I kill this other heart not sellable?

Market dick, cunt, misc. organs, will—what else?

Father, drive me on; built ‘fly’, built ‘wall’, built “fly’s on wall.”

………………..Big King, statue clothed against statues,

for all it’s worth: the thumb for all it’s done…



III. Cement cerements

I picture myself, today appetitive,

no song to animate with

sitting in a Virginia swamp,

the sun slumping in tree-worn autumn

the pupil of Washington’s eye,

as the sun-flower field

and beyond it, the forest’s edge

glimpsed through the vacant juncture

of a strip mall as if it were

another store-front—

the pricetags the hunter-fodder

of deer and fox and boar

as I picture them there still.


I have no Tocquevillean report

but only the innocence of Americans,

in the elbows of their acts,

suburban the elbow-room to the city

on vacation to unconsciousness

or movies, suggesting a humorous

“burden of color”

as colored is the sky we don’t own

but aim for as capital.

There are many streets and no walls

so each street must be one.


At least we have our innocence.

At least we have the smiles of our children,

bills, like shadows out of our wallets,

the grades they get from school.

At least we have those dreams of theirs,

and oh how we hate those that blew us up,

hate city-slickers, politicians, mirrors and such,

all who knock down the countrified twin towers

of each Sunday morning prayer or Monday

night goal post with their truancies.


At least we have such clichés, tired

and true, like an old pair of tennis shoes.

Or like this “poem,” for instance, so slippery when wet-

ted with your tears. Or how American poetry

is like country-western music,

is like the horrific impetus for Socialism!!!

present all along in the formulas

we shingle our three-car hearts with,

never asking where all these

materials come from, never asking,

never asking, but curious but at least—

at least we have our innocence to pawn,

as candidates and citizens

by a different name will always

avoid certain roads through it all.


Heart and not the thumb,

the eye and not the lid or lash

of America, America the possessed

America the zombie crawling out of its shallow

grave in a 50’s B-movie, below parking lots, sitcoms,

diatribes, lost with the dregs and residues

of an echo, the sound of a pen on paper, of a man

going out west, and the dust, a woman

giving birth, bleeding hands, eyes, hearts too,

drowned out in gunfire, banter, snoring,

and finally the little rubber button

changing the channel as it is fondled

by fleshy, guileless fingers.



IV. Shop ‘till you drop


mall-central plastic constellations spiraling,

imbuing between the eyes binary

to eyen you a market-place in heart.

……………Yo-yo hand-into-wallet,

with mallet, tonight’s dawning psychology;

the money coming the money going,

barring in beguilingly articulate riverrun

a raft a-raft wait a raft holier-than-this-craft

spinning, with kid’s “just needing food.”

Register Girl that’s disingenuously cute

wearing Serengeti exchange,

coring out antelope from CHA to CHING

……………as the Harbinger Dressor,

curator of the shoe isle, sizes you up for it:

This sneaker to chain your feet to earth,

These sleeves to seal your arms in air

some vast signifryer to annul “your” face



……………… a TV commercial for cement

that’s some dude saying

……………“this is the way it is, bro…”


V. Gimme the Loot

The Detroit canvas of flowers inked

on two-ply toilet paper rolls, channeling

adroit pistol-whip slaying of weak-ass niggas

(as we’re all gonna get murked anyway)


if not by idol-fucked punditries, shadows

of shadows, then by god-spelled-backwards’s

newspaper personals to al-kemia’s, commedias

of vindictive plays in threehundredmillion acts

mit Amerikanischem Gruß.


Painted within in creatorless é-mail,

hiving etymology as entomology, swiveling

the commodes of the commodore brain

a wav[er]ing map, to tomorrow’s deference.


As the sense of sensibility: of dicks in pussy

or the asses of character-minded men

—as the happy wagging of a dog’s happy tail—

yeah yeah the cities will welcome you


tomorrow from the barren mid(-west)-sections

of soon-to-be abstractions (this shift as traction);

Color Field painting to Facetious Realism

brought about by only the most social of painters.


(—like the cars in the rear-view window

that you see obliquely when you are the passenger,

a part of you thinking that these things

are in no way meant for me to be able to see.)


Sincerity, supplements of.

And with no excuse in youth

to not already swing the gavel

unto opposing [v]ideo-embossed meat,


(Once again the immensity is pathetic, arises:

“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”—

as to the pimps this mortgage, packaged innocent,

assuages to the indentured—the thumb the god.


As the Museum of Natural History is repository

to jealousy, hate, avarice—and, “above all”, peace.

The knowing, yet ever-unsaid affirmation of this

being love.) surrendering the right to accept surrender.


An egg with cream cheese and salami.

Yogurt-cum of cardio aspirations and desperations,

delineated in Reps and Sets; Holy! Holy! Holy!


—in the best shape of my soul-pitted scenester scene,

toiling for porcelain dentures or wealth-of-life

beyond being a battery for universal [scam-] credit.


(—driving the high[er]-way,

the congregation’s got-your-back;

from the pulpit, now a stage, the gospel in a 5.000 $ suit)


Subrogate pro bono republico or pro domo;

consumer a consummate louse in washbowls

to the elbows of another, greater God—

dependent on its title proliferating

on the tongues of lice; as being beginning,


with its traces webbed in informant castes,

ebbing in sporogenesis, a primal bias

that asserts itself in power beyond its originator,

entering among the sinews of the elements—

that of the one reflex to the soupy enclave


that multiplies as it is observed, deducted

from what is immediate into abstraction.

“Me as opposed to You”—

using “You” to facilitate the ends of “Me”,

sole politico of Impossible Monarchy.



what ‘dis-course with the people.


beyond transcripts of Identity,

not in service to dress the model and preserve whatever wealth

that is fame and legend of credibility

fucked into the hands,

subsidized in the logos of logos.


gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta

get a job a job a job a job a job


Indian geography quaint in the American suite,

quantumminds of local topography on the national scene;

sick; healthy;     poor; wealthy;


do not ever acknowledge this

schizophrenic changing of lanes.

“A Breath of Fresh World” by Bryan Horsley

September 28, 2010

Images from the life of a skateboarder.

Modulomag Art Notes: Susan Sontag and “Art’s flight from interpretation”

September 19, 2010

Lately I’ve been rereading Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation and other Essays, the titular title essay of which I would like to discuss a little…

Susan Sontag smokes a cig and is herself smokin'

In Against Interpretation Sontag explains what in her view is the problem with “modern art,” or art in general, as a delicate substance pulled taut between theory and praxis, where it often ruptures, over-interpreted by its theory and overdetermined in its praxis, and moreover that interpretation itself has very little to do with actual work in all its sensual peculiarities. Hence why she offers the following quote of Oscar Wilde’s in an epigram, that “it is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.” Right on.

Monsieur Wilde!

Now, the idea that interpretation always constitutes or at least begins with dissatisfaction felt towards a work of art and a concomitant desire to replace it with something else, perhaps one’s own “version” of it, is a very interesting one indeed. And yet, when taking this above example along with, say, this extract from Sontag’s text (talking about Ingmar Bergman’s The Silence)—”Taken as a brute object, as an immediate sensory equivalent for the mysterious abrupt armored happenings going on inside the hotel, that sequence with the tank is the most striking moment in the film. Those who reach for a Freudian interpretation of the tank are only expressing their lack of response to what is there on the screen.”—and though this might sound stupid of me to say (or “philistinic”, in Sontag’s parlance), does this all not comprise an interpretive reading of what it means to interpret? What’s more, the language here is hardly only “descriptive,” as per what Sontag advocates, but ventures into what cannot be only immediately gleamed from the film’s represented events, where the “tank” is taken in its capacity as a sign or cipher, which she then interprets.

While I really do agree with her final, somewhat ridiculously presented statement, I would instead rephrase it: that we need is less of a hermeneutics and more of an “erotics” of art, or to at least read alternately between these lines. (And then again, are these categories in fact two polarities to be read between? I am not so sure.) I also agree that interpretation takes the sensory experience of art for granted, and while we might amend that, as to knowingly pause and explore a work sensually, it is not on the sensual level where our relations with the perceived reside, and ultimately, insofar as there is a life of the mind and not only a life of the body, for they are one and the same, that is, inasmuch as sensing and perceiving find their way into thinking and ideation; the encounter itself is always also an interpretation, e.g. what this means to me, or, even on the most basic level, whether it appeals to me or not, etc. Ultimately, it seems that the awe one feels at the sight of a work of art, that is, upon one’s initial encounter with it, ends up as a mental impression. To merely admire the Nile of Marcel Proust’s language, as Walter Benjamin puts it, for its “Nileness” seems like so much, and yet, just as a river does, this all leads elsewhere, and so too are we taken, we who drift along in its currents. The same of course goes for the visual and the aural; inasmuch as a work impresses itself upon us, it takes on a new life, it inspires new work. The interpretive act is itself what animates the creative process, what allows for the creation of new imaginative space.

Granted, we do not try to look at, say, the Grand Canyon and identify its intellectual “content” or even what it “means” in the same way as we do when looking at a painting or reading a book, yet one was not consciously made and one was; in one there resides the telos present in the willful creation of every singular human work by an equally singular human agent, and in one there is the truly uninterpretable cyclicality of nature, which has no creator, inasmuch as it has no reason-for-being, and that points to nothing but itself and therefore is totally undeconstructible (“what you see is what you get”).

Lascaux: the world's first art gallery?

One thing that I have often overheard said by someone speaking of works of art, or a particular work, which left them in a “state of awe,” is how “God himself could not have done it better” (or at least some variation on that statement).  It might then be said in turn that the extent to which an artwork is sublime is the extent to which it approaches the “condition of nature,” that is, that condition of having no creator or not having been created at all, of never having been touched by human hands. Likewise, nothing can be discovered about the ostensible “products” of nature other than perhaps how they came to be—that is, the total and absolute arbitrariness of natural laws—as where it is solely the position of human works, in their capacity as ciphers allowing the perpetual reconceivability (that is, reformulatability) of their content, that they speak to us, in whose ears their unique signatures register; in this circuit the shared world is crystallized, the void upon which it was founded made, if only fleetingly, traversable. (Though, in the end, we can only recreate the scene at Babel; our world is ultimately doomed to fail, or civilization is a project that will never know completeness.)

"The Tower of Babel" - Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1563)

Above all, art is the organ of meaning (or that which at least approaches meaning); as each individual encounters a work of art for the first time there is born a new reading, and it is this very process which one might see as world-building, as it creates new imaginative space that in turn allows for the creation of new works, which in turn constitute the things of the world, as has been said. For even deconstruction is in a way also itself a perverse and radical construction or reconfiguration, inasmuch as the law must be broken for there to thus be new law; chaos is necessary for order, polysemy for the fixity of meaning, that is, its possibility, which is always deferred, hence why we must keep renewing, rereading, remaking and, above all, re-interpreting all that is being made. It is through the interpretation of a work that the “content” is created; the content of a work of art is the individual’s reading thereof. Only when interpretation becomes institutionalized, or a “project,” so to speak, its aggression building in the perpetual gold rush that is academia, that interpretation becomes destructive in its over-determined, traumatic “excavation” of art, which does violence to its fragile particularity.

Exquisite Excavators: Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault

However much Sontag says that she means not to advocate a “programmatic avant-gardism…[of an] art…perpetually on the run,” that is nevertheless precisely what has and will occur in the wake of such theories as hers. It is not a question of making art accountable for itself, for that would be to suggest that the work of art itself has inherent—that is, as it may exist apart from a reader or viewer—content and is inherently meaningful, which it is not. It is however a question of art remaining human and within any kind human relatability; that art not become self-obsessed or self-conscious, and thus render itself opaque, for art is not merely what is seen in a mirror, it is a mirror into which we look ourselves.

"Pygmalion and Galatea" - Jean-Leon Gerome (1904)

Art’s “flight from interpretation” is a sham, and above all constitutes a new artifice that has totally abandoned itself to the vertigo, the mania of its highness, for it is higher than high. Moreover, inasmuch as that by “art” one really means the “art world,” i.e. a society of artists, the performativity of art, beyond what is actually performed, has never been so overexposed. For to gain entrance into this “society” is to walk onto the set of a colossal 24/7 performance piece. Here all the artist does is attempt to outdo other artists in to what extent they can flout and piss in the face of some iteration of an oppressive “tradition,” all the while tightening the noose of their marriage with theory to the point where the two—that is, art and its theory—grow so proximal that the work of art already has [its] theory behind it, so to speak, that the work was created with its theoretical interpretability in mind, and indeed as its formal justification. While the dust of an atomized jet engine spread across the gallery floor, the giant skull of a sperm whale obscured behind screens and the anodized, lazer-reproduced copies of Brancusi’s Bird in Space (all works completed by artists shortlisted for the 2009 Turner Prize) (this year’s – 2010 – is even worse) might all dodge interpretation, that is, that they leave the audiences who happen to wander into the Tate Gallery in London confused, they however leave the critics, both academic or otherwise enfranchised, pleasingly appeased, their tastes and theories wholly affirmed.

"Untitled" (pulverized passenger jet engine) - Roger Hiorns (2008)

"Untitled" (sperm whale skull) - Lucy Skaer (2008)

"Black Alphabet" - Lucy Skaer (2008)

What is interesting in the above works is how the artist has narrowed in his capacity as such, even disappeared. They only arrange, if at all; the artist’s profanely originating vision is reduced to a function, an algorithm, not rounded down but itself rounded off. They do not originate, and hence obliquely betray their own influences where noticeable, but consciously derive and quote for quoting’s sake, and are made totally incidental. Here uninterpretability has become conceptualized, a way for an artwork to “function” in that it is a way that it may ultimately be interpreted; or rather, art has become the accomplice, the triggerman for theory’s smocking gun. It seems that Walter Benjamin’s rumination on “captur[ing] an image of history,” that one could discover more about present existence from its passively, unconsciously accumulating detritus (Abfall) (and not its garbage mind you, for garbage is consciously discarded) than from its grandest artificial and active attempts at self-representation has been taken literally, that we have consciously set about to artfully simulate this detritus from the back lots of the Enlightenment, achieving nothing but galleries and museums full of garbage.

—O & M

“Leaving New York” by Andy Folk

September 10, 2010

Leaving New York by Andy Folk

I take one more look at this highway, 4 lanes in both directions with no crossings or traffic lights as far as the eye can see, and realize I’m not going to make it. Across the divide is where I think I can catch my next bus, the one that will take me to JFK in order to redeem my ticket out of this place that has so decisively betrayed me. The sign is hard to make out; it could be a bus stop, but it also looks like a sign pointing the way to the nearest Dominos.  Traffic is moving fast enough that attempting a Frogger-style crossing doesn’t seem to be in the cards. I knew I shouldn’t have smoked my remaining pot out of that tin Kazoo last night, but alone in the apartment of a sober friend on vacation, I could devise no other implements. The tin fumes must have distorted my body clock, causing a late wake-up and twisted dreams of being menaced by a flight attendant Mayor Bloomberg in a pig mask, the World Trade Center sprouting again like trees from the middle of Tompkins Square Park, Lady Gaga revealing to the masses her steel wool pubic bush in the ruins of a freshly demolished Shea Stadium. No one around to give me directions, not here in the nether-regions of Brooklyn, at the intersection of several neighbourhoods I’ve never heard of and that none of my friends have ever discussed. I’m surrounded by big white buildings, turned grey in the sun. It looks like there’s a convenience store across from me but I can barely read the sign. How does a borough get this massive?  It’s like I’ve entered some sort of urban purgatory, the point where enough should have been enough, but the prehistoric New Yorkers kept right on building with no plan or purpose. Just a week ago a friend of a friend went missing in this city.  Her name was Lydia and she’s one of those vanished white girls that manages to really capture media attention. First came the Facebook group with a mere 24 members pledging their concern. Last I checked it had grown to 3,459. Last seen: on Brooklyn-bound G train with only her purse and flip-flops, in a normal mood, on her way to a job interview. Didn’t take her medication with her. May be manically depressed or disorientated at this point. After 4 days she showed up in the blogosphere, and then, somehow, the story went national within a week. Rumoured spottings began to circulate: an art student thought she saw her on the Chicago Metro near the loop, same outfit and bag, but on the same day she was seen on a city bus in Des Moines by a commuting pizza chef. Two days later a DJ posted that he thinks he saw her on the Light Rail in Denver, wearing a funeral dress this time. It’s like she found an effortless way out, maybe a subway line through ancient American wormholes. I envied her, because, for some reason, my escape wasn’t going to be so easy. The Egyptian embassy hadn’t mailed me back my passport even after the 4 to 7 business days. My one-way trip to the Middle East was hanging in the balance. The rising sun is becoming unbearable at only 8 AM, increasing the anxiety, pushing it towards a conviction that this plane will take off without me. At the huge Bushwick rooftop party everyone’s asking me when I’m leaving and for how long. I respond, “I don’t know if I’m leaving and if I do, maybe for a month, maybe forever.” The whole party I keep running into this one guy over and over again, which is weird because the place is crammed with greasy people that all look like paper dolls made from different issues of Vice, who looks kind of like me and I listen in on him making these sarcastic jokes about Adam Green and other anti-establishment indie rock personas, which is my shtick. Japanther plays for 7 minutes. Ninjasonic for longer but the sound is barely functional after Japanther. Around 1 AM Nat grabs me to tell a secret: “See that guy over there with the asymmetric haircut and the rad Salvo polo?” “The one that looks like me?” I ask. “Yeah, get this, he’s Cocksnake!” Fuck! Not cocksnake! The most contrived and obnoxious street artist in New York, which is the most contrived and obnoxious street art scene in the world! “You would like him,” Nat continues. “I think he’s a communist.” I take a long gulp of my 4Loko and formulate a plan to publicly embarrass him; the amateur critic’s rage burning within me, a fire kindled by unearned elitism, half-baked political-aesthetic critique, and of course, jealousy. My clever scheme amounts to loudly praising him with growing sarcasm. “Oh you’re Cocksnake! I am such a big fan! How did you think of putting a dickhead on a snake and stencilling it all around town? It must have taken you years of agonizing soul-searching to conceive of such a transgressive statement! Have you made a lot of money on the project? Is Dietch clawing at your studio door??” But when I walk up to him, he recognizes me first. “Hey I know you. Aaron right?” It’s not Aaron, but I find myself saying “yeah.” “Oh yeah, I met you with Lydia. You’re friends with Lydia right?” I just stare back as my machismo escapes me. “Well I know where she is man. And believe me, she’s gone. Way gone. She’s not coming back…” He makes a motion with his hands that suggested a hot air balloon ascending. “That’s not fucking funny, man.” I say, and walk away, rushing down the flights of stairs. Outside a single bouncer is preventing about 40 young-looking club kids from getting in. As I bike away hundreds more are parading up the street from the L train. Another night biking home drunk, one day it will kill me. I get a text from Sophie at 4 AM, asleep in the empty loft which we moved out from a week earlier: “WHERE IS SHE”. When I wake up I respond: “Find cocksnake.” My friends are getting tired of this kind of bitter ambivalence, only reinforcing my desire to fuck off. I call the Egyptian embassy and they haven’t even touched my shit yet, but they have it, thank Ra. I tell them I need it in a week or I’m screwed. I begin to make alternate plans, most of them involving places with better weed, cheaper booze, and a less uptight social scene. The Hasidic landlord walks in with two potential tenant yups, finding me sweating profusely in the noon heat, stripped naked as the apartment itself. “Oh excuse me,” I say. “I just came by to drop off the keys.” And I dress and make my way out, not leaving the keys of course. Later in the week I bike to Canarsie for Nat’s graduation party, which I did not know would involve having hung-over conversations with her extended family, and spent most of the evening looking at her Grandfather’s photo album. He was a photographer in World War II, and half the book was him posing with soldier buddies and girlfriends from home, the other half of the annihilated cities of Germany.  Now I’ve got these fantasies of lumbering bombers zipping through the minuscule New York skies laying waste to the city. There’s no shade anywhere, leading me to conclude this area was not designed with humans in mind, leading me to believe there is no bus stop and I’ve made some fatal error. At this rate I’ll never see the pyramids. The Sinai Peninsula will remain a Bible myth, and the sphinx a solemn stranger. I asked Nat how the rest of the roof party went. She tells me there was a small riot when the kids weren’t allowed in. Cars parked around the building had their windows smashed as the mob danced to their iPhones. Nat’s Mom sends me home with two tubs of Hummus and as many High Lifes as I can carry. I think: this will be the summer I get the tattoo of the woman lounging on the crescent moon, celebrating all the wonderful summer memories I’ve had drinking that crisp working class beer on Philadelphia and Providence porches. That night I end up drinking half the beers while doing little more than staring into my computer screen, all the while disgusted in myself for how uneventful my use of summertime has been, and upset at my friends and the whole damn city for not offering me more. I thought of calling Nat a bit after midnight, but our previous encounters in the week reaffirmed that she would not have me back. She would dodge the call and it would just be another little disappointment to chuck into the rubbish bin of my memory, now weighing heavy on me, making life just a bit more unbearable each day. The next night I call up Axel and we sneak onto an industrial property on the Williamsburg waterfront, and climb to the top with a couple forties tucked into our bags. We drank mostly in silence, staring at the Manhattan skyline. The Empire State Building was lit up blood red, as if celebrating a murder, and we debate for some time if we could hit it with a rocket launcher from where we sat. My passport arrives in the mail the next morning. There’s no going away party. I spend my supposed last day buying granola bars, a swimsuit, and trying to sell or smoke the rest of my weed. I didn’t leave anything at the apartment, I don’t think. I do still have 45 minutes to catch the flight, but I didn’t say goodbye to Nat, Lydia is missing, someone is spraypainting cocks all over New York, my friends won’t miss me, I can hear sounds of heavy construction somewhere close, and the endless procession of speeding cars that have trapped me here in Brooklyn’s doldrums, their drivers obscured behind tinted windows, have reminded me of what my father once cautioned me at a city crosswalk: They won’t stop for you.

Modulomag Art Notes: What’s in a List? The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40″

September 10, 2010

This summer The New Yorker released its list of the “20 Under 40” fiction writers who, according to Deborah Treisman, the magazine’s fiction editor, are believed to be, “or will be, key to their generation.” As narrow and opinionated as such a list undoubtedly is, it’s no surprise that it has been met with some question and a certain amount of criticism. In a featured comment on the list the editors wildly justify their picks by comparing their first attempt in fiction record in 1999, which boasts writers such as Juno Diaz and David Foster Wallace, whose greatness was obviously foretold within the magazine’s very pages. While the subject is alluring and it has since entertained a sprawling readership, effectively the “20 under 40” is just another list resembling the talent catalogues of Granta and other literary journals, which do more to validate their soverign right to pick and choose than having anything to do with the actual written work.

It seems that nowadays list-making is essential to the literary merit of writers, and The New Yorker is no newcomer. But what does this prove, that lists are entertaining, they are popular, adding to the celebrity of the literati, even going as far as creating a marker, an artifact of the cultural climate. When making a list one tends to follow strict rules of selection; lists, by their very nature, outline purpose. The New Yorker has taken on the responsibility of defining something as vague as a cultural climate. But can you really say who writing today (that is, of who is published) is the most innovative in our world of letters?

Along these lines, believing that a thorough list should include authors both known and up and coming, as it were, the editors were careful to pick those who have had their brush with literary stardom, and those of lesser fame who have either began writing recently, or which is most often the case, have only begun getting published. Of course its no mistake that the list is evenly divided into half men and half women, along with the custom mixture of those born in and outside of the States. The age-spectrum is merely a way of maintaining an artificial limit, trying to stuff as much socio-political range into 20 individuals. Why else would you include a 24-year-old woman from Serbia who doesn’t even have a book out?

What seems so daunting about this particular list is the choice of age as its constraint, rather than something more specific like, 20 immigrant writers, or 20 who write historical fiction. Age here is not random, and there is an allusion to genius that permeates throughout the list that gives the opinion of the editors of The New Yorker an overwhelming sense of power, entrusting themselves with the omniscience to carve out 20 authors and predict their influence.

In their comment the editors seem to make a colossal promise to inspire and captivate audiences by casting a broad net over the authors chosen for their genre, gender and style. As the saying goes, only time will tell if the list proves to be a successful marker of current and lasting prose, or if the faith we put into such lists will be unrewarded and those fortunate enough to “make it” prove to be false (if not increasingly unread) prophets to a generation of already errant readers.


Rhetorical Moves by Olive McKeon

September 10, 2010


1.0 Thinking

1.1 Think in units of debates. Rather than simply taking a position, note the debate between two positions. This way, you can watch debates play out. You can be on the look out for exchanges which reveal a debate. You can also mark events within a debate and name them things like ‘the ___ turn, the ___ question, the ____ problem.’ or mark beginnings and endings within a debate with names like ‘the death of the [author]’ or ‘the advent of [modernity].’

1.2 Deconstruction: take something that looks coherent and show that it is internally incoherent; dwelling within A is non-A. I looked up at the ceiling of a room on the third floor of ABC No Rio and saw that someone had drawn a picture of a book titled ‘The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism.’ Learn how to see not only internal oppositions, but also A inside of B, A hiding in B, A wearing a coat of B. The commodity takes the form of its opposite.

1.3 Examine a place as an event, a thing as a process.

1.4 Watch writers cut and run with each other’s ideas and perhaps try to chart it. X takes this straight from Y‘s (very Z-ist) reading of W in ____, and it is part of Y‘s theory of the ___, which she developed further in___ (not yet translated). [Zizek takes this straight from Althusser’s (very Spinozist) reading of Pascal in Ideology and the State Apparatuses, and it is part of Althusser’s theory of the materiality of ideology, which he developed further in other (recently published) texts such as “Machiavelli and Us”, “Marx in his limits”, and “Philosophy and Marxism.”]

1.5 Marxist methodology. Whenever a rule is invoked as an explanation, you know another reason dwells elsewhere. The invocation of a rule serves the purpose of concealing a latent reason.

1.6 In organizing a set of ideas or works, one can use several organizational schemes: by theme (literary and philosophical works on alienation), by person (the dances of Trisha Brown), by time (Roof Shingle Design, 1845-47), and by place (Quilting in Durham). The axes of space and time, horizontality and verticality.

1.7 The power of metonymy. In Smith’s Wealth of Nations, the term ‘invisible hand’ appears once in the thousand pages of text.

1.8 Take it to the Next Level.

2.0   Reading

2.1 To encounter a text. Encounter variously means ‘to meet as an adversary; to confront in battle, assail;’ ‘to meet, fall in with;’ ‘to meet with, experience (difficulties, opposition, etc.);’ ‘to face resolutely;’ ‘to go to meet;’ and ‘to accost, address.’ Encounters may be hostile, fraught, ambivalent, pleasurable, transcendent, or some combination thereof. One can sit so excited, so excited, so excited, waiting for a reconstruction of a dance that has not been performed since 1971 to begin. One can be destroyed, torn asunder, by a work. One can tremble with the fear of a piece never ending. One can love these encounters, the problems posed by them, how much there is to say, how peculiar the whole apparatus is.

2.2 Read with a set of commitments. Not that these don’t shift and change, but one has a project. The stakes are high.

2.3 Notice when a writer is playing a different role in the text, wearing a different hat. In this passage, he is putting on his accounting hat. Have different hats as a reader: your temporal hat, your safari hat, your poetic hat.

3.0   Writing

3.1 Making distinctions with elegance. Take an idea (the other, the outside, whatever) and modify it by someone’s name. Olive’s outside, not Luther’s. A second method is to use the same word but in a different part of speech, for instance the distinction between politics and the political (e.g. The political is the constituent tensions of a society and politics is the kind of concepts generated by those tensions). You can also do something with capitalization: must we not have a distinction between theory and Theory? You make up different ways of saying the words so they sound different, or use different gestures to use when you are saying them.

3.2 Take a well-known phrase and swap out one word. Where have all the explosions gone? Take a well-known phrase and chop it down to size. I saw a tattoo on S. D.’s arm that read All that is solid…

3.3 Take two words and repeat them with other words sandwiched between. Hell yeah? Hell to the fuck yeah. Steven “all team player” Zultanksi. Steven “no pipes” Zultanski

3.4 State something and then take it back or find someway of nullifying the need to have mentioned it in the first place. I would say I should spend less time in cemeteries, but we both know that would be saying only and that I don’t mean it anyway. There is a bank, about which there is nothing to say, other than it crouches and sweats whitely and that it must be burned.

3.5 Use cinematic cuts when making an argument. Leave a scene, a character, a problem somewhere and skip to something else. We will meet up with Merton and Scholes a little later.

3.6 Restate something to create a moment of risible redundancy. B.G. told a story which involved a sign that read, ‘Here lives the rabbit. The rabbit lives here.’ Sam is a person who cooks and also likes to cook. Historico-historicity

3.7 Name a certain mode of response and then unveil a more thoughtful or complex reply. The one- liner response would be ‘that’s not a pipe! It is a picture of a pipe.’ The trivial point would be…

3.8 Double metaphor. Connect a metaphor to two different referents. Priests among priests. Cops among cops. The trots and administration are hand in glove.

3.9 Layer cultural logics atop of one another. In this interview I transcribed, John Jasperse ran through a long list of personalities, bands, fashionistas, rappers, Baroque composers, and so on in explaining his costume choice of covering his dancers in doilies.

3.10 Take three semi-unrelated things and act like they are generally known to have so much to do with each other. This has become a catalyst for a much more serious discussion about the relationship between death, the University and modern capitalism.

3.11 In titling something, make the part before the colon much longer than the part after the colon. The Frankfurt School’s Interest in Freud and the Impact of ‘Eros and Civilization’ on the Student Protest Movement in Germany: A Brief History

3.12 Take someone’s name and make it into as many parts of speech as possible. Invite me to this party: readings for the evening will include How James Joyce Became Joycean (on Joyce, the Late Joyce, and the Future Joycean), the Joycean psychedelic epic James Joyce Barefoot in Joyce’s Head, and On the Metalanguage of Joyceanism. Photocopies of texts will be made available at the screening.

3.13 Write as if one were in a different setting. Swap contexts – from a seminar to a sportscast to a rock and roll show to a support group. At the bottom of a formal letter of invitation, add: And if there are any ladies left in the crowd, don’t worry—we still do menstrual blood tincture rituals.

3.14 Categorize types of responses. You can do this in terms of content: People tend to fall into two groups in relation to this idea. Also in terms of the form of response: clarification, elaboration, disagreement, and so on.

3.15 Add as many details as possible. Give thought a space, a time, a bodily experience to emerge from. He had this thought while eating a sushi boxed lunch on a bullet train in japan coming from a Lexis factory and hearing about conflict in the middle east. She made the decision while preparing a pot of tea in an attic bedroom in Kentucky staring out at a yard of weeds and thinking about everyone who had betrayed her.

3.16 Self Parody. Do too much of what you think you want to do. Make it ambiguous which is your work and the parody of your work. Attempt to resemble a caricature, a cartoon of yourself. A tagger who writes ‘Don’t Tag.’

3.17 Combine formal speech with informal utterances. Three Songs of Lenin—Like we loved him.

3.18 Use we instead of I. You will feel less lonely.

3.19 In poetry, you don’t have to use all of the words. Look, you can just cross these ones out.

4.0   Talking

4.1 My current research is on x (some subject, contemporary art, biopolitics, what-have-you). I will talk about it next week, but first, let’s discuss y (some other subject, neoliberalism, botany). Everyone came to hear about subject x. And each week, subject x is deferred and subject y is discussed. Over time, y becomes x. We are astonished.

4.2 Anticipate the opposition. I knew that you would ask this question. I must admit that I have prepared an answer.

4.3 State the timing of things to avoid restlessness. okay, now we’re going to listen to a song. it is two minutes and forty nine seconds.

4.4 There is a certain type of dinner table conversation that has little to do with content. More important is motif and the ability to pick up motifs, play them off each other, and make a composition out it. For example, you take the first five things said – warm bread, seeing a lightning bug, coast of Oregon, being tired, kelp – and you attempt to combine them in the most novel and timely ways.

4.5 Historical reference can be used as an intimidation tactic. Learning the history of something can at least prevent someone psyching you out for not knowing it. It can also tame one’s historical audacity.

David Graeber: Well, yes, as you can see, I always try to put things in long-term perspective. One of the vices of academia, and to some degree it washes over into the intellectual life of social movements, is this obsession with rupture, this giddy presentism, this absolute assumption that whatever is happening now is utterly new and unprecedented and marks a fundamental break with the rest of history and human experience. At this point it grows genuinely tiresome. (in an interview with Yiannis Aktimon)

4.6 Censorship as Promotion: Do you see this? Don’t look at it! Denouncing something often has the effect of increasing its circulation.

4.7 If you are making ‘Art’ or something that no one really knows about besides the few friends that are kind enough to ask you about it, act like it is an international force slicing through the totality of the social.

4.8 Take something whose main subject is widely known, and show how the text is about everything other than what it is known for. Richard Dienst made the claim that there is not much in The Coming Insurrection about armed insurrection. Horror movies as being about everything other than horror.

4.9 Specify the criteria of good taste, the knowing of when you have an excellent specimen of something. Like all good graves, it’s smaller than you’d think, and at least partially in shadow. Specify the criteria for when something adequately plays its role, the boundaries of a specific category. Like any good spy, a spy gives a report. Any decent French marxist would deconstruct the film as a critique of the idle and excessive aristocracy.

4.10 Insist on calling someone by a different name of your choosing. I will call you Julius.

4.11 When introducing a work or paper, explain the conditions of how it originated, why you wrote the paper. This envelopes the audience in a project. They are here with you to help in the process and unfolding, not mince you to fine pieces.

4.12 Name someone long dead a posthumous follower of someone alive after them. Marx was a Sraffian. Put a concept into someone’s mouth that they do not have access to historically. Freud had not yet found his body without organs.