May 8, 2009

MY GENIUS IS NO MORE THAN A GIRL* by Teresa Carmody, Kim Rosenfield, Vanessa Place, & Christine Wertheim

*Note: Title is taken from libretto written by Vanessa Place, in
collaborative project with Stephanie Taylor, "Murder Square Dance at the Spiral Jetty"

Christine Wertheim is a former painter with a PhD in literature and
semiotics from Middlesex University, (UK). She teaches at the California
Institute for the Arts for whom she co-organizes an annual conference:
Séance (2004), Noulipo (2005), Impunities (2006), Feminaissance (2007),
Untitled (2008). With Matias Viegener she has co-edited two anthologies of
contemporary experimental writing: Séance, Make Now Press, 2006, and The
noulipian Analects, Les Figues Press, 2007. A third, Feminaissance is
forthcoming in Fall 2009. The book of her own poetics +|'me'S-pace is
published by Les Figues Press, 2007. Christine also co-directs The Institute
For Figuring, which organizes presentations and exhibitions on the
intersections of art and science.

Vanessa Place is a writer and lawyer, and co-director of Les Figues Press.
She is the author of Dies: A Sentence (Les Figues Press), a 50,000-word,
one-sentence prose poem; the post-conceptual novel La Medusa (Fiction
Collective 2), and, in collaboration with appropriation poet Robert
Fitterman, Notes on Conceptualisms (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2009). Place is
also a regular contributor to X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly, and is
collaborating with Los Angeles conceptual artist Stephanie Taylor on the
film, Murder Squaredance at the Spiral Jetty. Her nonfiction book, The Guilt
Project: Rape and Morality will be published by Other Press in 2010. Place
is co-founder of Les Figues Press, described by critic Terry Castle as "an
elegant vessel for experimental American writing of an extraordinarily
assured and ingenious sort."

Kim Rosenfield is a poet and psychotherapist. She is the author of Good
Morning--Midnight-- (Roof Books 2001), which was named Small Press Traffic¹s
Book of the Year in 2002, Tràma (Krupskaya 2004), and re: evolution (Les
Figues Press 2009). Rosenfield has published and performed extensively in
the U.S. and in Europe. She has collaborated with visual artists Jean Foos,
Cheryl Donegan, Yedda Morrison, and with choreographer Sally Silvers.
Rosenfield lives and works in New York City.

In response to the call “this is what a feminist [poet] looks like,” I asked three Les Figues authors—Christine Wertheim, Kim Rosenfield and Vanessa Place—to respond to the following prompts:

1. Locate an aspect of feminism within your work.
2. Locate an aspect of feminism within the work of (Christine Wertheim / Kim Rosenfield / Vanessa Place).

I wanted to hear how each these poets would articulate her feminist aesthetic: a question becomes an answer becomes a question becomes a series of post-modifying noun phrases becomes a tool, says Rosenfield, “with a ponytail and moustache.” But of course, each one of us is also made from many others, a point eloquently made over and again in different ways in the poetry of all three of these women. In demonstration, then, I wanted to hear each of them writing about the work of another. The resulting text is poly-lingual and absolute in its, as Place says, “rejection of absolute truth.” Or as Wertheim says, “perhaps it can also be read another way.” Yes, indeed, so says a feminist.


[On Vanessa Place: To Die, to Sleep. To Sleep, perchance to dream.]

[This text refers to three works by Vanessa Place, noted as follows: Notes on Conceptualisms (NoC), LA Medusa (LM), Dies: A Sentence (D).]

Allegorical imagery is appropriated imagery; the allegorist does not invent images but confiscates them. [s]He lays claim to the culturally significant, poses as an interpreter. And in [her] hands the image becomes something other (allos = other + agoreuei = to speak), Craig Owen, "The Allegorical Impulse"

In Notes on Conceptualisms, co-authored with Rob Fitterman, Vanessa Place argues that "Conceptual writing is allegorical writing, (NoC, p. 13). This might seem a surprising assertion, given that most work which has so far claimed inclusion in this category has been produced by using appropriated materials or exhaustive generative procedures. But as Place and Fitterman argue after Craig Owen, such procedures lie at the heart of allegory, for allegory is an other way of telling, a way of using one set of materials to allude to something completely other. What could thus be more allegorical than something purloined from one environment, and inserted into another to make it say something wholly different than the original context allowed? What also could be more feminist?

As a manner of speaking or writing allegory uses two tongues, two lips. Or to use an earlier terminology, it is a way of using language in which two contents are contained within the same form. For many modern (i.e., romantic and post-romantic) aestheticians, this doubleness is anathema, because it destroys the old aesthetic idea that what makes art Art is the indissoluble unity between a form and a content, the absolute appropriateness and, even necessity, for this content to be expressed in that very particular form. This is, of course, a version of the old Master's Truth. To be sure, it is an aesthetic Truth that we are discussing, but nevertheless it is an aesthetics of mastery and domination and uniqueness. According to much classical modern aesthetics, allegory undermines this artistic Truth for, by saying two things with the one form, the absolute identification of one form with one specific content is denied. If in allegory two contents are expressed with one form, this implies that there are many ways of saying the same thing, or rather, that the same figure of speech can say many things at once. Allegory is thus not only innately polyvocal, it is excessive, and parodic, and it engenders supplementarity.

Allegory in other words approaches the condition of La Medusa; "referring to the scales encrusting my heels and the creeping slits of where my fingers and toes are prone to split, though never to a set of hooves, never something so sharp or useful, my condition never ends, just as it never began, (LM, p. 165). It is a condition in which mimesis is not just an aesthetic activity, but a way of dealing with the constitution of a self. Like Cahoir's insects whose imitations of twigs and leaves do not fool their predators, but only their siblings. Allegory as mimetic possession. I dream I am La Medusa, and a whole city springs from her head, round which balls ripen into men and women who come screaming bare-liked into being…(LM, p. 165)

But there is also death. It is a sentence, execute in slow motion, violent and soft at the same time: Pierre Guyotat meets Virginia Wolfe. War literature at its finest, its most literal, for what is war but the making of a death sentence. And it is made, made-up, from bits and pieces, fragments or crumbs dropped from the vast table of modern literature, put into a new Place, to make a new sense; the sense of a contemporary allegory about new possibilities, even in the face of the death of the face that does not see, but freezes one to stone.



Recently in Berlin, Kim Rosenfield the conceptual poet presented a paper on “poetics in the invitational mood.” ☼ This invitational mood as described by Kim Rosenfield the occasional essayist involves multiple subjectivities, multiple objectivities, multiple temporalities, and many Kim Rosenfields—including “Kim Rosenfield the arena” and “Kim Rosenfield the perfect hostess.” The invitational mood as enacted by Kim Rosenfield the clinical psychotherapist is the understanding that Kim Rosenfield the conscious subject is, like all sentient subjects, an objective set, and the set of Kim Rosenfield is an incomplete set insofar as it does not include not Kim Rosenfield, and the set of Kim Rosenfield is an unsettled set insofar as it alludes to Kim Rosenfield the audition. ♫

For, according to Kim Rosenfield the oral history, the invitational mood invokes “try-on” language. “Try-on” language is language that “unthinks” its otherwise static associations and syntax. “Try-on language is like the best adolescent, or Jackie O., the fashion icon, able to occupy multiple mes in a life that is au courant and à la mode. According to Kim Rosenfield the building inspector and Kim Rosenfield the fun-at-parties, every now includes a then, and every then is replete with the to-become. If Kim Rosenfield the as-if knows anything, it’s that I = me + them sure as this way = that way = this way + that way.♫ And thus, Kim Rosenfield the prime number makes poetry that is an ode to telemachus, to the transmigration of souls, not in the dubiously optimistic here-to-come but in the more cobbled here&now, for Kim Rosenfield the imparfait is present-tensed and stuffed with plums of sadness and great glee, scientific disambiguation and corporate pep-talks, common sense from common people and shoes that shine gold and silver and never say Stop!♣

True to her absolute rejection of absolute truth, Kim Rosenfield the definite article allows for a field of definite articles: “the” is always many: there are only local truths. Kim Rosenfield the store locator also knows, just as Kim Rosenfield the tear-stained-face suspects, that each definite article is in this way an article of real faith, to be had, even temporarily, at the price of some other mark of oneself, equally personal, equally precious, equally degraded, denuded and netted in the same thin web. Giorgio Agamben writes about “life’s subjection to a power over death and life’s power over death and life’s irreparable exposure in the relation of abandonment.” The terribly tensile “thes” of Kim Rosenfield the vice principal constitute the awful ongoingness of us, that part where abandonment meets resistance meets a well-turned ankle and a hole in the Wall. Alain Badiou observes that the state is founded, not as a social tie, but as an untying that binds: the ability to exclude from the state is what constitutes the state. Kim Rosenfield the tool box praises the pathos of the personal liaison and the historical enchaînement, poetic practices that are feminist politics to the felt beat of the tambourine, O yeah.♫ Because Kim Rosenfield the you-can-jive has abandoned the divide between inside and outside, that false comfort which is so comfortable for poetics of the ironic gestural and personal polemic varieties.{∞}

Meanwhile, Kim Rosenfield the true story is to Vanessa Place the jurisdiction as Kim Rosenfield the loss is to not Vanessa Place the sentence whereas Kim Rosenfield the whatever is Vanessa Place is the Kim Rosenfield. And we are all of us the better for it.☺


[My Feminism is Near (Yay!)
(Based on the Transition Revolution Franchise Model)]

Feminism in my work is about building resiliency. Feminism, I say, depends on working together, not building bunkers. Feminism is about reducing the impact of what comes out of the tailpipe of society, putting new systems in place to help it withstand the shocks that come so we can plot a path of elation rather than of guilt, anger, and horror. My feminism is a kind of coming-out party meant to engage the public in my work. It’s like any other civic organization. My feminism can harness the “power of human energy,” and address the world’s gloomiest challenges without shoving them into denial or depression. My feminism is located in the Panida Theater, a classy old movie house in Sandpoint, Idaho. “Sandpoint, are you ready?” My feminism is deeper—more radical—than mere greenness or sustainability. My feminism gains heat from my neighbors and they from it. It isn’t a very romantic notion and maybe achieving status so easily is a sign that its not really talking the level of paradigm-busting work needed to be awakened in us. Maybe it will turn out to be regrettable, but maybe it could be unusually constructive. My feminism already lives a scaled-down life. It is quite tall, with a ponytail and moustache. It’s already bartered, shared, and canned together. Tradesmen, workshops, cultural institutions, and farmland surround my feminism. I make my feminism as self-sufficient as possible. For a generation, feminists have told us to change our lifestyles to avoid catastrophic consequences. My feminism tells us those consequences are now. My feminism can be a bridge to carry us over the terrible time ahead and into a world we long for. It is a force somehow outside us. My feminism emphasizes hopefulness over fear & focus over messiness. I like having a dishwasher. My feminism might topple governments, alter national boundaries, incite wars, and challenge the continuation of civilized life. Feminism is inevitable. But this is a feminism that could be fantastic. My feminism came to me in a dream in which there’s no problems, there’s only solutions. My feminism is starting to career down the other side of the hill, which hill, specifically, is up to you. But it’s the shadowy side, and none of us can see the bottom. My feminism is the mottled product of a century of migration. My feminism is going to journey into 2030 and see what’s there for us. My feminism is trying to look on the bright side of an America with less. My feminism is a good tool for the job. I can pick it up by whatever handle I grasp. I can swing it as earnestly as I can.


[The Infrared Figuring of Chr|st|ne Werthe|m]

Chr|st|ne Werthe|m is working to bring into focus details and patterns that exist outside of immediate perception. Her infrared poetics sees every piece of a dynamical system, a fractal feminine that paves the way to infinity. Seeing infinity is infinitely feminine in that it expands and opens to endless possibility. Possibility is inherently feminine by means of measuring qualities that otherwise have no clear definition. Her authorship provides for a society, “a me, a mother, a rhythm of time.” It is infinitely relational. Her first book from Les Figues Press, +|’me’S-pace doc. 001b, is a psycholinguistic Koch snowflake-- a plane fractal with a finite area and an infinite perimeter. She is a feminist who runs with the Mandelbrot set. A Leibnitzian drop of water contains a teaming universe; a werthe|m|an litteral poetics contains an infinite # of linguistic strands in one organ, the litteral tongue:

But perhaps we should clarify something.

there are no singular or correct ways to understand
the arrangements of a tongue.

All readings make (some) sense to some|.

(Perhaps this is the definition of a reading?)

A tongue is thus less a uni-verse, than a multi-verse.

(from +|’me’S-pace)

The permutations of these formulations are engineered to key us in to the workings of psychic structure. Her feminism implies incursion; patterns inside of patterns. Hers is the infinitely vast work of Mother Nature inherent in phase-space language streams connecting our basic humanness. Chr|st|ne and her twin sister, Margaret Wertheim, have orchestrated a Hyperbolic Crocheted Coral Reef, (see Institute for Figuring which is the tactile fractalization of interconnectedness, both amongst the global handicrafters they collaborate with, and also amongst our sense of nature as collaborator with us.

According to their website, The Hyperbolic Crocheted Coral Reef is “a woolly celebration of the intersection of higher geometry and feminine handicraft, and a testimony to the disappearing wonders of the marine world.” In the Hyperbolic Crocheted Coral Reef, as in Werthe|m’s poetical lexicons, ideas are sculpted material whose variables change continuously making a flexible system of expansion and abstracted essential information. A smooth flow can break up into whorls and eddies. Wild patterns disrupt boundaries between fluid and solid. Language transmutes to a flexible organ, supple and elastic, creating it’s own intuition from scratch.

What is beautiful and most relational to me about Chr|st|ne’s work is that every piece of this dynamical system can move independently and can become another variable, and thus gain another degree of freedom. Individuation through connectedness. Her complex pattern formations of language and thought are the ultimate expression of free will, freedom, and, I think, what conceptual women want: “Dynamics freed at last from the shackles of order and predictability…Systems liberated to randomly explore their every dynamical possibility…Exciting variety, richness of choice, a cornucopia of opportunity.” (Joseph Ford) This is what we’ve fought and fight for, this is the +|’me’S-pace, and this is our psycholinguistic life science sisterhood with chr|st|ne werthe|m.


["Read My Desire
by Joan Copjec"]

Q: Why is my work feminist?
A: Because I want to make love with language.
I do not mean I want to use language to make love to some other, but to make love with (a) language itself. To let it come, so that we can hear what it has to say for itself.
By (a) language of course I mean the English tongue…my mother's tongue. I do not, like Joyce, want to use this tongue as a device for making myself come. I know what I sound like. I want to know how some other appears. Specifically I want to know how the English tongue appears when it has been voided of human presence and will, when it has been avoided by my presence and will.

Perhaps this sounds like the apparently typical contemporary teenager, wantonly, willingly handing out blowjobs, asking for nothing, in return for herself. Perhaps, like this teen dis-ease, my poetic desire is just another sign of the perversions of the "sexual revolution." Not to say that it hasn't had its benefits, but it has its perversions as well. And perhaps this is one of them. It can be read that way.

But perhaps it can also be read another way. Perhaps it is more like becoming a mother myself, a mother to language, voiding my desire so that the little (t)on(g)e can be tickled pink without feeling itself being invaded. And mothering is a feminist process, in spite of its selflessness. Even just because of its selflessness. But my desire, and its a-voidance for others, is not the only subject around which a feminist work can revolve. There is also the question of work and words?

Q: What kind of work and words are mine? What kind of work and words are feminist?
A or Q?: Words that stay in process avoiding being solidified, reified, turned into stable objects? Words that allow themselves to express their rage as being's-mothered, s-mOUthered, vO|ded, avO|ded, vO|ced? Words that don't what to come. Words that don't want to be put into a mOUther. Words that want to be left alone. What about them? Are they feminist?

Q: And what about the Tongue itself…my mother's tongue? Is it (a) feminist?
A: Not as used commonly. But what if we were to look and listen carefully; trying to catch the nuances where the loneliness and arrogance of the|'Sone's solo vO|dse ceases to be so rigidly distinguished from the togetherness and shame of the-m-Other's flowering h|men? What if we were to attune ourselves to the places in words where this distinction breaks down and the | becomes just a part of the-m-any-Other |s?

Q: Is this a feminist word/k?
A: Oui. Ooooooouuuuuuuuuiiiiiiiiii! Ooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii

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