It is difficult to comprehend humanity’s position within our vibrant ecology, particularly when that environment—traditionally seen as such a stable property, is so clearly susceptible to human influence. Mark Payne, author of Theocritus and the Invention of Fiction (2007) and The Animal Part: Human and Other Animals in the Poetic Imagination (2010) tracks the reciprocal relationship between myths, narrative patterns, and poetry, and the types of awareness that emerge around ecology. Mark Payne is a Classics Professor, teaching at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought. He also runs an incredible poetry series at U of C’s Gray Center during the school year.
Caroline Picard: In your book, The Animal Part: Human and Other Animals in the Poetic Imagination (University of Chicago Press, 2010), you begin with how hunting narratives often center around the human realizing that he—usually a he—is seen by the animal he is about to kill. At the risk of starting out with too grand a beginning, I started wondering if perhaps our awareness of the Anthropocene parallels that hunter’s awareness somehow, where the human suddenly sees itself within a larger, collective, and conscious environment?
Mark Payne: I see the question of time and how to make sense of ourselves in a dislocated narrative. One kind of dislocated narrative is a conversation narrative where two parts of a life lie on either side of a traumatic break. Are we there yet? Are we nearly there yet? Doubtful I think.
CP:What do you mean by a dislocated narrative? In what way or why is it dislocated?
MP: I mean it like a dislocated joint. The two parts don’t work together any more. Understanding that we were in the Anthropocene ought to feel something like that I imagine.
CP:This makes me think about a later section of the book about metamorphosis, and maybe especially a part in Ovid where you describe humanity’s confused origin story—whether we were “made by God from his own substance, or whether Prometheus scooped some leftovers from the sky that were mingled with the earth,” making us into the image of a god as one might a dumpling (or at least that’s what came to my mind). “This passage speaks of a kind of homelessness in the world on the part of human beings,” you say, “separated from animals by their later birth and stance, but unsure of their kinship with higher beings. Every transformation in the poem underlines the futility of their efforts to close the gap between themselves and the gods by widening the one between themselves and the animals.” (125) On the one hand, I feel like the predicament you describe here—perhaps especially in the context of animal/human hybridity the chapter lays out (almost as a way of illustrating one’s own alien-ness as it appears in one’s self, spouse, a neighbor, or an encounter with a stranger)—seems exactly the same now as it was then; in other words, this same confusion or homelessness is just as relevant to ancient Roman society as it is in the Anthropocene. On the other hand, I wonder if we might need different narratives, myths, poems, and fairy tales in framing otherness and contextualizing humanity?
MP: Why is it that we have this capacity for ecstasis? But then maybe the animals are no more captivated by where they are than we are. Once I spent some time with a Gila monster at an oasis in Arizona. We both seemed equally out of sorts with the desert despite our different adaptations. But we do not trust ourselves when we go along with the other animals, as Heidegger puts it. I think it’s more about trusting what we already have than always needing to innovate. I guess I don’t really trust that impulse of always needing to move on from what’s there already.
CP:That makes sense, though I sometimes feel like humanity has been in this multi-generational conversation with environment, and its tone has recently changed; it’s less predictable, maybe, noisier. More direct. Maybe instead of thinking about needing some new approach, we need to adapt or evolve? I have a hard time understanding how to take on the violence that’s been enacted on our world thus far, especially when the future seems so dark. What would the ancients say about that? How would/do you approach teaching landscape today?
MP: I think the loss of Nature and the loss of the past are the same thing – a loss of shared life. Hölderlin talks about gleaning – going over the ground again for what we didn’t realize was there. Adaptive mutation is an open question I guess, but I doubt that we can will it into being for ourselves. I feel more hopeful about endurance in being possessed. If we could stay with the remains I think it might have more lasting consequences as a possibility of transformation. That’s how I would teach an ancient landscape, as trying to stay with it, now that it has come all this way to be with us.
CP: In an essay you wrote about trees, you spend some time describing how Christopher Stone’s proposition, whereby trees’ rights would be incorporated into our human legal system. I love the way you describe the awkwardness of that endeavor—how we might then have arbitrate between sometimes conflicting desires of a grove of trees, a paper corporation, a beetle infestation, and it’s local rabbit, robin, human, or bee populations. I feel like you set that exercise up in contrast to the lyric poet who seems better equipped, somehow, to bridge human and nonhuman experience. I was wondering if you could say more about the way poetry specifically assists the imagination? What kind of attention can we find there that we may not find in legal computations of equivalence?
MP: I feel like the poet’s role, or poetry’s role, anyway is to disequilibriate, that is to say, to throw everything out of balance with disharmonious attachments. I think poetry is really good at that. Disequilibriation might be the beginning of liberation. Stone begins with disproportionate attachment as the beginning of ecological concern but then wants expert panels to make the decisions. I would like it if we could linger some more with the kinds of discomforts that poetry provokes.
CP: At present, I understand you are working on a new book about shared life, or choral life. I got the sense that you were proposing that shared life illustrates how landscape—something we have traditionally relegated to a silent backdrop—is something that steps forward and participates, perhaps the way a Greek chorus does in a play. I’m wondering how you see that chorality, and what narrative it is attuned to? Would rhythm be an important factor here as well?
MP: It’s the uncanniness of it that I’m trying to get at. That there’s not just this tree here and this tree there as we typically encounter animals as singularities but that these trees have a shared life together that is also part of our shared life together with them. It’s like the way the chorus comes forward and retreats. I think that’s what you mean by rhythm, except that rhythm to me suggests a kind of regularity whereas the coming into awareness of shared life is more aleatory. It has the structure of attention drift even though it is bringing something to us.
Feeling a little tropical, Chicago? WTT? couldn’t be more proud to see our own cracked out home state finally trending somewhere aside from Buzzfeed.
McCraney addressing the “fancy people” at the Palmer House on June 2nd.
The Arts Alliance of Illinois is even feeling the heat, as they honored award-winning American playwright and McArthur Genius AND Miami native, Tarell Alvin McCraney, at their Voices of a Creative State 2014 luncheon on June 2nd. McCraney speech was (as you might expect from a New World School of the Arts grad) completely captivating, inspiring, and a formidable act for Gov. Quinn to follow. Not to mention he looks like $625,000 in that suit. If you hear me clap once.
The program image for the luncheon featured an image of McArney sporting the Miami area code “305” shaved into the side of his head. BOSS!
Had to sneak a photo in with the man of the afternoon.
Abraham Richie’s lively Roundtable conversation on #ArtinChi at Western Exhibitions in the West Loop. Peep the internets for posts from the event.
This past weekend Miami art non-profit Locust Projects brought their popular Roundtable Series and it’s moderator and creator, the lovely Amanda Sanfilippo, to Chicago for progressive conversations hosted by stakeholders in Chiacgo’s cultural scene. The Locust Roundtables were a part of EXPO Chicago’s /Dialogues program, in conjunction with the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design Conference at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
SPOTTED: Sanfilippo (right) & WTT? informant Alexis Bassett (left) at the Starwalker gala on Saturday night. We assume if you’re reading this you’ve probably seen enough images from the evening (or better yet, you were there!) so we’ll spare you any more shots.
Rapid Pulse continues tomorrow night with a performance by the much loved Mikey McParlane, who will be performing with Floridian transplant, filmmaker & musician, Jimmy Schaus (the performance will also include the hottest jogger in LS, Caleb Yono).
We spotted this sneak peek of McParlane’s rehearsal with Schaus last night on the artist’s instagram account.
And here’s a picture of Rick Ross just because.
Header image features a window installation by Heidi Norton in her exhibition Prismatic Nature, now on view at the Elmhurst Art Museum through August 24th. Not to be missed!
Judy Chicago, Queen Victoria (Great Ladies Series), 1973. Sprayed acrylic on canvas, 40 × 40 in. Collection of the Brooklyn Museum.
Starving Artist is Anything But
CAC Partners with Chefs, “Mixologists” for Benefit
No one will go hungry at the CAC’s Starving Artist benefit June 21, 2014 to be held at their West Loop gallery space. Based on last year’s event, it appears that no one will go thirsty either. Tired of waiting in long lines for booze at benefit events? We counted at least three inventive alcoholic beverages from last year, including a popsicle made of Hennessey and that classic cocktail of old, jello shots. Enterprising gallerist Andrew Rafacz even managed to make an installation of his own by turning a ping pong table into a game of beer pong in 2013.
Photos or it didn’t happen! Andrew Rafacz, gallerist and professional beer pong athlete.
The event will feature local artists Diana Gabriel, Luftwerk, Alexandra Noe and Edyta Stepien will work with Chefs Matthia Merges (Yusho) and Chris Pandel (Bristol and Balena) and Jared Van Camp (Element Collective). Score! WTT? freakin’ LOVES Yusho (can someone say double fried chicken and seafood too weird/ delicious to be located in Logan Square?). Looking at last year’s roundup, it’s unclear what is art and what’s food so hopefully we don’t see any tipsy art patrons trying to lick Luftwerk’s projections. Wait, who are we kidding? We TOTALLY hope that happens!
From 2013’s Starving Artist, “The Cave” installation by Andrea Morris of Cocomori.
Tickets are available on the organization’s website. Chicago Artists Coalition is located at 217 N. Carpenter Street. See you there?
Reading is Fundamental
The Library is Open, Hunty
Conversation in Art Gallery Actually Has Tangible Result. As part of the Locust Projects Roundtable hosted by EXPO and Western Exhibitions, Chicago Artist Writers (CAW) wrote an on the spot review of Nicholas Gottlund exhibition at Paris London Hong Kong with Chicago’s king of conceptual art writing, Brandon Alvendia. Not for the anti-collaborative or the faint of heart.
The Aguilar Family Engages Openly. This 6-point perspective recap of the Aguilar Family’s experience at the Open Engagement conference last month in New York City is kind of like reading a Faulkner novel, except that it’s actually enjoyable. Short and sweet, take a minute to read both Part 1 and Park II on the Cultural Reproducers blog.
Become Required Reading! As artist Jason Lazarus once said on Facebook, “writing poetry is embarrassing and ecstatic.” Turns out it can also be profitable! Submit your writing to the Guild Literary Complex’s Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Poetry Award and you can win $500 and the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve made more money off your writing than most poets.
Money can’t buy taste. Or can it? What is good taste anyway? Not the Yusho kind. “If art matters, then we should care about quality. And that means having the courage to forge a standard of good taste,” an article posted to the BBC boldly proclaims. We’re not ready to lead the charge but we enjoyed this meditation on taste for the BBC by Tiffany Jenkins anyway.
Chicago Celebrates Life of Frankie Knuckles With Totally Epic Dance Party
Gorgeous photo courtesy of Oscar Arriola
Don’t Snooze on These Upcoming Exhibitions…
Because clearly you will lose.
In the spirit of Stephanie Burke, here are our Top 3 most anticipated exhibitions opening in the next week.
Postcard image for Black Cauliflower.
Black Cauliflower. New work by Corkey Sinks & Jamie Steele opening June 14th, 6-9 PM and open through July 19th at Roots & Culture.
#BRUTEFORCEFIELD Work by Christopher Meerdo for his ACRE Exhibition, opening at The Hills Esthetic Center June 14th at 7PM. Open by appointment afterward.
Not sure what brutality has to do with puppies but we’re willing to find out.
Alex Chitty for Trunk Show. Opening Sunday, June 15th, from 2PM – 4PM on the rooftop Parking Lot at Home Depot, 1300 S Clinton St. (at Roosevelt). On view on the open road through Friday, July 18th. Follow @trunkshowtogo for updates on the gallery’s location.
This past Friday I attended The Operature an exhibition by the collective ATOM-r (Anatomical Theatres of Mixed Reality) at the National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago. This exhibition was held in two parts an interactive installation and 90 minute performance showcase. ATOM-râ€™s participants include Mark Jeffery (choreography), Judd Morrissey (text and technology), Justin Deschamps, Sam Hertz, Christopher Knowlton, and Blake Russell (collaborators/performers).Â The ATOM-r collective explores the application of forensic science and anatomical mapping, as viewed through the through the scope of performance, technology, and language. What struck me most about the exhibition was the poetic consideration of the body and the layering of segmented perspectives visually, technologically and through dance. This is especially true of the performance where the dancers bodies move like they are being examined for medical display, like they caressed with love or sex, like in battle, and like the ritualistic laying out of the dead all in one sequence. When combined the layers of sourced gesture seem not as if disjointed but in an embracing collaboration of movement. I feel my observation of this exhibition is like looking through a magnifying glass peeping in to catch glimpses at what is a large body of accumulated research.
The installation included a 15 monitors that displayed the interactive exhibitionâ€™s language poetry and digital art that seemed like entries dense with interconnecting references selected from an accumulation of archived materials. The Operature. Attendees are able to pick up cards with medical and anatomical imagery and show the QR-code to a camera provoking a response and changing the exhibited material as a corresponding text begins to dance across the screen blinking in and out. On other screens images of head cut into thin slices spin resembling the process of cross-sectional scans of bodies under anatomy study, or the presentation of anatomical evidence on glass slides. The dissection of slices is also seen in the exhibitions use of language fragmentation and the multifaceted perspectives created by technology that includes both in the installation and performance.
Upon entering attendees are prompted to download an app that allows them to interact using their smartphones during the installation and performance. Audience members found themselves taking on the roll of investigators drifting around the exhibition looking for signs, images, and codes that they could scan using their camera phone. Once scanned, these images display technological overlay ghost images and text that seem as if they had already been there, invisible, waiting for you to discover them. Often I find technological interactions to fall short but there is something consistent about the concept of a phone app that allows you to view an augmented reality layer in an exhibition based off anatomical theaters, where the audience becomes an investigator of anatomy. It was one of the best uses of interactive technology I had experience in an exhibition. This inclusion of the technological other worlds slips in and out of the subjective, pushing realties/non-realities together and is an integral interaction when used during the performance piece.
image from phone application
The collective stratum of reference is something you encounter in every aspect of ATOM-râ€™s performance. One can view the piece from multiple vantage points choosing to sit in pews, walking among the performers, or standing above the performance looking down on it as in an operational theater. As the performers dance Judd plays the role of conductor, controlling projected displays of text reiterating those used in the installation, and reading them aloud as he performs.
He also provides the attendees with a technological viewpoint, displaying his live video of the performance showing the virtual reality ghosts we first encountered in our own investigations of the installation. The spoken language of the piece was delivered in the same cold cut tone as a scientific manual but had the touch of deeply personal poetics of the struggle with the body. The text provides us with many concepts such as the examination of the body as house, the treatment of the dead, and the histories of anatomical theater. One of the most interesting sources is the text sourced from the â€œstud fileâ€ of writer Samuel Steward describing details and observations about his various erotic encounters with men. These excerpts when juxtaposed with the anatomical body texts create an interweaves narrative of the gay male body.
The expert choreography composed by Mark Jeffery and his collaborators holds the audience captive while working in correspondence the technological devices. The all male group of performers embraced, wrestled, fell, carried one another around the room like corpses, posed for examination, removed and readjusted each otherâ€™s buttons and zippers, each performer functioning simultaneously as the displayer and the displayed. Even the lights become dancers moving around the room and repositioned by performers. Observes peer into the dancers bodies, guided by the ever-present examiners lights. As the scenes are constructed I am reminded of the painter Thomas EakinsÂ and his paintings of medical theaters. The audiences enters ATOM-râ€™s The Operature like a crime scene, attempting to paste together all the clues given through the use of dance, poetry and art as evidence. To quote text from the exhibition, â€œthe evidence looked back at you awkwardly and defiantlyâ€, asking you investigate the margins of these clues. Your reward for your exploration is an involved and richly layered experience that speaks to the poetics of anatomy and left me feeling touched to the bone.
If you would like to see it for yourself the exhibition continues till March 29th. There will be two more shows this coming weekend on Friday and Saturday. The interactive exhibition is open at 6pm and performance begins 8pm. National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago, 175 W. Washington, $15 at the door. Here for more info.
â€œCourage is the great enabling virtue that allows one to realize other virtues like love and hope and faith. To have courage is to be willing to look unflinchingly at catastrophic circumstances and muster the will to overcome the fear, never to fully erase and eliminate the fear but overcome the fear, so that fear does not have the last word or so that fear does not push one into conformity, complacency or cowardice. â€- Cornel West
I donâ€™t know how to be courageous. I donâ€™t think that I am now but I know, at least I feel, that I must be in order to make it through this moment. Recent months have seen us, as Americans, wrestling with the baseline hatred and oppression that we had so naively believed we had moved beyond, a desire we know now to be a desperate fantasy. I believe Cornel West to be true when he tells us that courage will lead us to other virtues, other strengths that might enable us to not only make it through our time but to imagine a real alternative, a utopian dream no farther than our beds. What I mean to describe here is not a kind of free imagination but, as Å½iÅ¾ekÂ has described, â€œa matter of the innermost urgencyâ€, an imagined alternative to a situation whose solution is so far outside the coordinates of the possible that one is forced to imagine an alternative space.
There is a courage to performance, as there is a courage to poetry and criticism, to those forms whose goals, from the outset, are a freshly imagined future. Not just the courage of those taking to embodied action but a courage to witness those acts. A willingness to be changed by something, to allow oneself to feel what John Martin calls muscular sympathy. A kind of sixth sense that gives the viewer access to the work through the performers body. Not simply the courage of the stage but the courage of the street and bar. The courage to stand beside one another, to allow oneself to feel responsible for each other, for ourselves. Too often the heady dialogues surrounding the production of aesthetic experience call to mind a kind of aimless drifting identity. An abstract subject, tethered to nothing and no one, submerged in the machinic realities of our time but this is not true for all of us. For those of us operating from a place of difference, whose lives are not simply shaped but are out right controlled by social and economic oppression, Â there are other ways of being. New ways to gather, to love, to share. New economies. Strategies of resistance. Alternatives simultaneously imagined and enacted between sweaty down beats on crowded dance floors in rooms that are forced to accommodate us as we are.
I wish that I could tell you how to be courageous, that I had some great strategy for us, but I donâ€™t know. All I have is a feeling of urgency, a sensation that drives me towards hope, towards an alternative. I can tell you that the work will be courageous and that with it so will we. I can tell you now that we will be in this together, as a community, as a collective. We who feel strongly, we will be the ones to make a practice of resistance. To turn ourselves towards a tumultuous present of catastrophic circumstances, where revolution and change are palpable events, the tyranny of unaccountable elites runs rampant, and the violence of our city howls just beyond our walls. We will be the ones to turn towards this moment, our moment, to face our oppressors courageously for each other.
â€œWho will fight the bear? No one? Then the bear has won.â€ Â – Bas Jan Ader
PS: I misread “you” instead of the “I” you have. How does this change the tone of the text? How does this change the idiomatic expression itself: â€œI break for strangersâ€ or â€œI will rock you like a hurricaneâ€ or â€œthe children are our futureâ€? How does this change the sense of a dialogue between a subject and an object of desire on the skintight highroad of language?
If the quir theorist Eve Sedgwick is rite and Allah language is performative: What is the qonsekuences, Mr. Bones? Language performativity simply means that that
the words we use have a social effect
such as when a judge pronounces you â€œguiltyâ€ or when a matrimonial couple utters â€œI doâ€ or when land reform protesters scream
Sweet Little Nothings: Contemporary Romanian Poets on Nihilism
Many recent poets have announced the death of postmodernism and the quick and subsequent births of Conceptual Writing, Fracturism, Flarf, Post-Avant Poetry, Slow Poetry, and so on. But is the age of deconstructing the metaphysics of history, god, and self indeed over in contemporary Romanian poetry? Otherwise put: what does it mean to write if nothing matters? What topics do self-conscious (and history-conscious) poets write about after the theory that the center does not hold no longer holds? Is Cioran still relevant when he claims that the most heroic thing for modern man to do is commit suicide? What kind of nothing do you believe in? What kind of nothing do your poems represent? Which nihilism represents you as a poet: Nietschean fecundity or confessional solipsism or another? Do you prefer toÂ lose your past, your faith, your self in the infinite music of the void through Dionysian excess or in puritanical minimalism with its hidden Apollonian authority or in some other direction? How do your poems â€œtake responsibility for their freedomâ€ as Sartre put it? Camus found relief when the Sisyphean bolder was rolling back down the mountain. Where do you find relief? Is finding relief and closure why you write your poems?
This roundtable invites 5-6 poets to offer a definition and a poem showing what nihilism means to them and to their poems in 5 minutes. After these brief provocations, the audience is expected to harass the poets with questions about how Romantic (see John Keatsâ€™ negative capability) they still are to think they can live in OR represent the nothingness of being. Bring your potato salad. The objective of these brief presentations and hoped-for audience response is not to make moral progress toward a True contemporary Romanian poetry but to make aesthetic progress by becoming more self-aware of our habits of mind.