The Life Instinct: unification, the eternal return, the perpetuation and MAINTENANCE of the species, survival systems and operations, equilibrium.
– Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Manifesto for Maintenance Art, 1969!
Last May, when I wrote MAINTENANCE #1, I quoted the interview Bartholomew Ryan did with Mierle Laderman Ukeles, for Art In America in 2009. Maintenance, she told him, “is trying to listen to the hum of living. A feeling of being alive, breath to breath.” That’s still my lodestar for this column.
I write fiction most of the time, at Bookslut I write a reading diary on different themes, and here I write about specific solo publications – the reading I do, and bump into doing, here in Chicago. I write about “the people [the writers, the editors, the publishers] who are taking care and keeping the wheels of society moving.” I try to pay attention. Here where Our Scene is so rad and vibrant but also so segregated by neighborhood, schools, tone, etc., this is something we can always fail better at.
To start, then, a list of new work by Chicago writers and publishers – I haven’t read any of these yet, but I want to: Ark, a new edition of Ronald Johnson’s epic poem about (for example) William Blake and The Wizard of Oz; David Stuart MacLean’s The Answer to the Riddle Is Me; Trisha Low’s The Compleat Purge, published by Kenning Editions; and Rave #1, a comic by SAIC painter Jessica Campbell.
Next, some work I read this month. (An asterisk means it was published less than 365 days ago.)
+ Afrosonics, a blog by Harmony Holiday*
+ Guy Davenport!
+ Manifesto Items 2 by David Lasky (self-published, 2013)*
+ Women, The New York School, and Other True Abstractions by Maggie Nelson (University of Iowa Press, 2007)
+ Like Someone In Love: An Addendum to Love Dog by Masha Tupitsyn (Penny-Ante Editions, 2013)*
+ The Crisis of Infinite Worlds by Dana Ward (Futurepoem Books, 2013)*
Afrosonics by Harmony Holiday
Afrosonics is poet Harmony Holiday’s archive of poetry, music, and antiquefuturisms. “Afrosonics,” she writes, is “a form unto itself; an omni-poetics that exists in the interstices between genres, goes beyond the commonly perceived scope of oral tradition, and is an enactment of the Black Aesthetic and often the Black Avant Garde and Black Radical Tradition.” I love how she uses “enactment” – this is a living archive. All the clips and quotes here are fairly brief, meaning Afrosonics is more a map than a library – an introduction – and most everything is musical somehow. Some pieces are glitched or otherwise edited by Holiday.
I come here to look and to listen, and to take notes. I a lot of these names – Alice Coltrane, Haki Madhubuti, Joseph Campbell – but not all of them, and the ones I don’t make my brain and heart stronger. Here’s where I first heard Fred Moten’s name, and since then I’ve read every book of his I can find. Currently it looks like access to the clips is restricted and the archive is moving to a permanent, offline home at Columbia University. But I’m writing it up here anyway as a website because there are still some resources there, and maybe you need to get started too.
Guy Davenport was a writer, translator, critic, veteran, teacher, and painter who lived – mostly – in Kentucky, where his lawn, said Ronald Johnson, was “a Klimt of violets.” Straight up, I should have read Davenport long ago and every year since, but I didn’t because his name didn’t sound like someone I would be able to hear very well. He sounded very white, very male, very rich. A couple years ago I grew up and gave him a proper chance, and it felt like someone knocked a skylight inside my head. Now I read him regularly and when I do, I absolutely always learn a new way to see this work. Plus, I enjoy his tone – it’s polite but fixed, and occasionally stubborn. No airs. He is white, but he’s not that male and rich, and he draws on an international archive then makes it new.
This month I re-read Davenport’s Art of Fiction interview, where he talks about (for example) logbooks, and being a soldier, and literature in schools (with a capital-L and without). My favorite section, this read-around, is where Davenport remembers one of his teachers, Harry Levin, who taught him “how to read images in a text – that literature is as pictorial as painting or sculpture. He saw that what we needed alongside the old-fashioned stylistic and ideological criticism was a criticism of content. In his seminar on Melville, he paid great attention to the Pequod, for instance.” How cool is that? Close reading as structural, as sculptural, not dogmatic. The other example I know of this kind of reading is Ramona Quimby, asking how Mike Mulligan went to the bathroom. “[Levin] never once mentioned Calvinism or any of these other things that critics rave on about. But the space of the ship, its sociology, he could get into that.” Me too.
Manifesto Items 2 by David Lasky
David Lasky, a Seattle-based artist who won an Eisner for his book about the Carter Family, is my friend and collaborator and so, good thing this isn’t a traditional review column. Manifesto Items 2 is a zine, staple-bound and covered in blue paper, and also a portfolio of recent work. Each page has an isolated image and none have accompanying text, so what makes a whole are David’s bold, confidently-inked lines and forward movement. On most pages, the gun is still smoking, or the character is looking out-of-frame. There are also women in capes and comfortable underwear, Jane Birkin waiting for a movie ticket, bare feet, sucker punches, Bigfoot combing his chest fur, and spot illustrations Lasky did for The Stranger. I really enjoy how David tells stories, even though keyholes like he has to do here, and I like this zine in particular, as a snapshot of his work before and just after the Eisner. If you write him he might send you one too.
Women, The New York School, and Other True Abstractions by Maggie Nelson
Last winter, a lot of us read Renata Adler’s Speedboat and Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, and so last spring some of us tried writing novels or poems in fragmented paragraphs, like how those two do. By “us” I mean I sure did. Then I read Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning and Jane, which is about the murder of Nelson’s aunt. And then I thought, how did Nelson talk about what she wanted to write, before she started writing it? Where was she standing, when she wrote these books? Women, The New York School, and Other True Abstractions starts to answer these questions. It is a textual history not only about the New York School but about the forces that want to call it A School, and about the women who were in the room if not always in the books. The first chapter, which is my favorite and which quotes some of the same material Bluets does, is about Joan Mitchell and how she used color. There is also an entire chapter about Bernadette Mayer, which is never a bad choice. I learned so much here – facts and frames – and I love Nelson all the more for writing a dissertation about women she knows, women who are still working.
Like Someone In Love: An Addendum to Love Dog by Masha Tupitsyn
As I wrote last summer in The New Inquiry, Love Dog is an archive of Masha Tupitsyn’s Tumblr by the same name, which references Argos, the patient, sweet dog who waited (and waited) for Odysseus to come home from the war. Now published by Penny Ante Editions – and beautifully so, with an accompanying multimedia mixtape - Love Dog is a book about love in the digital age, feminist love, and mourning. It is also the second volume in Tupitsyn’s digital trilogy. (The first was her book Laconia, which started as a Twitter account, and the last will be a sound and video piece, placing the whole definitively in the performance art world.) Like Someone In Love is a free, 65pp PDF – an internet essay culled from the same media and emotional space as Love Dog but written last summer, when Masha was on residency in France. The awareness of it, its careful attention, and its precise desires remind me of both Sarah Schulman (who Masha quotes in her introduction) and Chris Kraus, especially in I Love Dick. I read Love Dog as a performance and a feminist archive, and I enjoyed and felt passionate about it even though my life is far from a residency in France. I am excited for the third volume of the trilogy, and then to wait a few years before taking it all back in again. These pieces will continue to claim space – media-wise and intellectually – and to matter.
The Crisis of Infinite Worlds by Dana Ward
I picked up The Crisis of Infinite Worlds because poet Anselm Berrigan blurbed it and its cover was a rainbow. I went straight to Skylark and read the entire thing in one night. I spend a lot of time learning how people think about poetry, and figuring out how to teach it, so it was such a pleasure – a relief, even – to get completely lost in a book of poems. Seriously people: I went so far inside. I loved it. Lost in a Chicago bar, reading a book of poems, would be a great way to go.
The Crisis of Infinite Worlds is committed to both optimism and survival. It is fierce and tender. It is written by a poet, a husband, and a dad, who is also a New Yorker and doesn’t try to minimize any of these things or worse, make them dishonestly graceful. It is sometimes a letter, sometimes an encyclopedia, sometimes traditional poems. My favorite today is “untitled birth narrative” which has a Joe Brainard cameo and is also a totally heartbreaking piece about being the dad in the delivery room, i.e. the kind of poem I always thought would be either selfish or saccharine by default. This one is neither. I read it twice in a row. I do not want to write any more about this book because I want you to read it for yourself.