Sunday, February 27, 2011
Here's Adeena Karasick's video, Lingual Ladies, a repurposing, scrappy and pieced-together parody of Beyoncé's smash hit Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) that is also a celebration of innovative women writers and a call to pens. Enjoy!
Adeena's website is listed to the right, in the URL-roll.
And here's the intro she delivered when she presented it yesterday:
For Banff Presentation In(ter)ventions : Writing at the Edge 2011
For the past 20 years, my work has been focused on aspects of intralingual post literary construction – whether its videopoems (I Got A Crush on Osama, or This IS Your Final Nitrous) slide projections, homolinguistic, pataphysical translations, or the repurposing of the 50’s style dating etiquette handbo, “The Rules”, its incorporating a post-literate, hyper-generative aesthetics highlighting recycled language, sampling, borrowing, cutting, pasting, mash-up, engaged in an inter-ventive poetics marked by neo-formalized post-consumerist media-enfused transgressive linguistic practices.
During my two weeks here at Banff as part of the In(ter)ventions Residency, I made a video called “Lingual Ladies” [a parody or repurposing of Beyoncé’s pop hit “Single Ladies” and kinda acts as an example of and commentary on Conceptual Poetry.
The video foregrounds the process of hunting and gathering, of assemblage, bricolage, grabbing and cutting and pasting; becomes a kind of cultural translation, a socio-cultural ideological religious mash-up. It draws from the materiality, miasma of cultural/intellectual archive -- and aims to de-hierarchize or problematize, interrogate that distinction between a kind of philosophical / high art discourse and the “lowbrow” seeming banality of pop culture.
Along with Beyoncé, it features cameos from the texts or likeness of Gertrude Stein, Wittgenstein, the Italian and Russian Futurists, Marx, Derrida, Levinas, Benjamin, bp Nichol, Spinoza, Helene Cixous, Hannah Arendt, all floating through the boppy mistranslation of a pop song.
Basically this is my rallying cry for the women of Conceptual Poetry to "put their pens up", TO WRITE and be engaged / participate in a vital act of cultural translation, a memetic translation. And if a meme, a unit of cultural info virally replicating itself through language, “make a text of radical memes”.
The fact that there are three dancers was kinda crucial and significant. As Maria mentioned in her brilliant talk regarding her illuminated cross-stitch, 3 is synechdoche or metonymic of the Three Fates, Macbeth’s 3 witches, of course the Kabbalistic notion of the three mothers (ALEF, MEM SHIN), letters or vessels of fiery potential (and by the way not only reference the beginning of the word “shmata” but means “Hear This” (Listen Up)…AND very significantly, Irigaray’s notion of “The Law of the Excluded middle” – (her retranslation of Plato), which interrogates a highly problematic reductive binaric structure embedded with boo hiss hierarchization. So, of course this tripartite structure opens up any limitive dynamic of either /or.
I wanted the video to be highly parodic in nature, satirical and ironic. And, if you really think about it, parody is not merely a “send-up” or spoof, generated to mock but rather as a jumping off point, to comment on cultural practice, female representation intellectualism, meaning-making. Its satirical in the way that its social commentary, incorporating strategies of exaggeration, juxtaposition, fractured comparison, analogy, and highlights certain discordant features of “reality,” art, ideology, the concept of framing ---
And it made me really think about the whole notion of framing / of how a frame is a bracket / a cutting off and into – is NOT a static enclosure but a kind of calling into, a caress (like how Fred was writing about Isadore, a door; the frame is a passage into and out from --- a contingent holding pattern from which one can intensely investigate luxuriate or bask in and then let go of…a flux of frames reframed in infinite aims
Through the making of this it made me really question WHY is it so important or interesting to engage in a process of repurposing or stealing, borrowing shoplifting information – and it just made me really think about how everything is a parasc/tical process, all intertextual and archival; a rewriting, a retranslation of a retranslation; how the page a pageantry of the giddy googler gone rogue mad gatherer. & madly gathering, i’m not just a RAG picker but a FRAG picker / plucker of fragments of parsed pulse plais plays laced socio-political-lingual culturul shards fractures highlighting how nothing is pure, but contaminated with palimpsested resonance --
So Lingual Ladies – a work of excess and exuberance; writing against resistance enclosure, risk, fear, but with festive frivolity…And like in the project with Maria --
weaving words through all that is dirty and degraded;
making meaning out of the syntactic rags, tags, remnants, moments, the
found data, shattered matter,
shredded fragments garments of the other
and anti-absorbedly sops up
all that surrounds
caressing what is dirty and contaminated, expropriating,
re-appropriating the proper, improper,
celebratrating (syllaborating) all that’s filthy and wrinkled and inside out.
all that’s unfolded, soiled, sullied and un-rinsed
all the philosophers and poets and semioticians all the feminist writers / warriors and
and i want to plunge into your spongy thickness / your infected inflection,
yr intertextatic syntacticism
BRING ON THE LINGUAL LADIES!
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Yesterday I gave my end-of-residency presentation along with all the other members of the In(ter)ventions: Literary Practice at the Edge program at the Banff Centre for the Arts. I showed a bit of work from the past (eros/ion, with mIEKAL aND), more recent past (Flaxen for Jen Bervin and Raw Power/Kill City for James Williamson); then I showed my blog (this blog) and read a bit of it, as well as the Aleph Mem Shin x-stitch, which is almost finished by now. It was a headlong rush through the material and I was winging it on a very pleasant adrenaline high that was part informality and partly exhilarated nervousness. It was the last of a series of resident presentations, all of which were both brilliant and piquantly in-process and there was a good feeling of artistic community.
Afterwards, at dinner, Paul Seesequasis, a gracious and generous human being, gave me an amazing gift: a first pressing copy of Raw Power in mint condition. I needed to lean on J. R. Carpenter in order to not have my knees completely buckle under me. I was still on the adrenaline rush and that gave me another wave of it.
Stay tuned for further musings on how the Iggy and the Stooges fit into this saga, this yarn of text and textile, this intermeshing of tactile praxis and cerebral spinnings. As I wrote on my FB page, there is no end to Stooge Magic. James Williamson noted that it (the receipt of the Raw Power gift as somehow karmically appropriate to this creative journey) was poetry! and it was indeed poetic justice. It seems to happen when I simply go towards the doors that are opening. Stooge Magic, I'm calling it for now, though it's got lots of names. God is afoot, magic is alive, as Leonard Cohen wrote (in Beautiful Losers) and Buffy St. Marie sang.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
In an interview, John Lydon remarked that "it's a scrapbook, but it's not just scraps. It's more like a roadmap." The distinction is worth considering. Scrapbooks are nostalgic attempts to fix events and noteworthy items into a book that reifies its maker's identity for posterity; roadmaps are forward trajectories. Lydon assumes that people will want to imitate him, so the scrapbook (retailing at $724.50) also becomes a how-to guide. Right now in the lit crit biz there is a surge of interest in scrapbooks as cultural markers and historical bricolage, the work of amateurs creating themselves through collections of key moments in their lives, windows onto historical eras, specific cultural loci, and individual sensibilities as they are socially framed. See, for example, poetry-and-popular-culture tzar Mike Chasar's Poetry Scrapbooks: An Online Archive. So, as usual, Lydon has his finger on the pulse of the times.
Lydon also paid tribute to Ari-Up, his step-daughter who died some months ago.
Lydon was known in the 1970s for his breakthrough sartorial style (based, according to some books, on Malcolm McLaren's perception of Richard Hell's style), which included dishevelment, elegantly tattered clothing, layers of tornness upon tornness, and so forth–what became known as punk style. He has written that he was positively impressed by the dress of street people, the homeless, they had a certain style. So did he, consisting of a rageful working-class sensibility crossed with killer fashion instincts.
Since Adeena Karasick is so much a part of this Banff/blog/collaborative/shmata-shma'atta experience I thought I'd share a token I made for her a few years ago, when I was writing a presentation on her book Dyssemia Sleaze for a conference at University of Alberta on archiving the modern, or something like that. There's a picture in the poem "The Wall," centerpiece of DS, an Avedon photo of a man with bees swarming all over him. Very disturbing. I learned from Adeena's Kabbalah studies that B, Beit, is a house (archive), and as second letter of the alphabet, is sort of a female (but not in an absolute sense) principle, breath, etc. So I made this little Beit, a bee-hive ark-hive of scriptural activity.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
... is the title of a performance piece/long essay-poem (poessay?) that Adeena Karasick and I have been working on, starting last February. I've been collecting and generating texts and textile pieces for my Text, Textile, Exile project for a few years now, and when I went to New York a year ago (Feb. 2010) I met with Adeena and learned that she too had been working along parallel lines. While reading the entirety of a book we both had essays in (Radical Poetics and Jewish Secular Culture), she had discovered a marvelous pun: shmata (Yiddish, "rag") and shma'atta (Hebrew, "the text at hand") and we were off and running.
We had worked together before, having presented a collaborative closing lecture, "“Simultaneous Jewissance: Performing Critical-Creative Mutual Influence,” for a conference sponsored by the University of Minnesota's Department of Theatre Arts and Dance in 2006, and it had been a gratifying experience, well-received as well as enjoyable, so we had a precedent for working together. We feverishly generated text and then at the end of February debuted our piece as it then was to In(ter)ventions: Literary Practice at the Edge, a conference at Alberta's Banff Centre for the Arts where, a year later, we are both residents in a program by the same name, in which we hope to further our collaboration. We also gave the presentation in slightly altered form at the Post_moot Convocation of Poetry and Performance in April 2010, at Miami University, Ohio.
Now we're back here at Banff; I'm working on this blog and also on our piece (x-stitching the letters Aleph, Mem, and Shin (the three mothers); Adeena is working on a video and also on our collaboration.
The photo represents the MEM under construction; i'm adding a gold metallic luster-crust to it to make it a little more interesting.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Online dictionaries and etymology databases have made it easy to compile such lists, with the added pleasure of the random unexpectedness of some of the words that turn up. The "ragman's roll" is the very item that Leo Spitzer related to "rigmarole" and "Rehoboam." And it's not, as I assumed, something that ragmen carry with them on their backs. According to wiki-p, it's "collection of instruments by which the nobility and gentry of Scotland subscribed allegiance to King Edward I of England, during the time between the Conference of Norham in May 1291 and the final award in favor of Baliol in November 1292; and again in 1296." By "instruments" is meant documents, it appears. And the etymology is unclear as well, though Leo Spitzer's (mentioned in an earlier blog entry) is generally taken seriously.
In these lists of words, depth is sometimes sacrificed for these rough-tumbling, tongue-twisting concatenations. Any one of them is the opening of a whole world of sentience and intellect, but the arrangement in algorithmic lists has its own glamor.
Here are pix of two hangings I made for my friend Ed Cohen, who teaches cultural studies at Rutgers University and whom I've known since our graduate school days in the Program in Modern Thought and Literature at Stanford. The brown/blue one dates from 1989 and the red one from 2008.
During the same period in which I asked for and received the beautiful writings from Masha Zavialova http://hyperpoesia.blogspot.com/2011/02/shawl-of-recognition.html and Christopher Funkhouser posted below (http://hyperpoesia.blogspot.com/2011/02/essay-by-chris-funkhouser-on.html), I also asked Ed for a response. Here's his sweet and rather, um, flattering essay:
Tendencies and Tensions: Weaving the Stuff of Creation
by Ed Cohen
Woven threads: textiles, texts, tissues, living stuff. These plays of warp and woof have variously served as images for language, social relations, human flesh, dreamscapes, women’s work, and the negation of the natural world by human labor more generally--all true enough in their ways. However, they also reveal processes actualized, virtual tendencies made palpable through creative choice and deliberation, decisions which divide the what may have been or may yet be from the what is, and simultaneously wind them all together. Woven events incarnate an ontology of time that Henri Bergson named “duration,” a time of change from which the unexpected may tear free of the already known or the presumptively knowable. Thus, they can actually manifest freedom as a creative form. Cunningly detained within the loom’s tightened strings, time may reveal an élan vital—a living spirit.
Bergson (especially as reworked and refigured by Gilles Deleuze) posits duration as a “virtual multiplicity” which entangles “heterogeneity and continuity.” As Deleuze puts it, virtual multiplicity “does not divide up without changing in kind, it changes in kind in the process of dividing up.” Enduring time represents tendencies spun and unspun, wound and unwound, changing and unchanged. Knotting this divisive coalescence together requires tensions and “de-tensions” [détentes], contractions and expansions, restrictions and transgressions: “Duration is only the most contracted degree of matter, matter the most expanded [détendu] degree of duration.” Tractions and tractabilities mold the mortal coil.
Underlying Bergson’s (and Deleuze’s) metaphysical intuition, lie manifold intentions, attentions, extensions, retensions, detensions, protensions, tendencies, and intensities: in short “tensions” that tend simultaneously towards and away from each other and thereby make the universe matter for a time. All these tendentious concepts trope on a hidden etymology: the Latin tendere refers to stretching, as in the stretching of an arm or a bowstring, i.e., to the movement of something beyond itself even while it remains itself, to the elastic spring of being. Essentially taut and loose, the universe weaves itself into being. Shuttling (between) time and matter, it creates the enfolding fabric of existence.
On the loom, strands stretched between cross pieces of a frame create a potent emptiness. They determine a field of indecision which calls forth decisions. They manifest a matrix of fertile vortices which hail color and texture. Each choice rends time, slicing the virtual from the actual. This fiber, this tension, this movement, this instant growing out of, flowing out of, increasing and enhancing by restricting and condensing, the indeterminate potential from which it emerges. The resulting fabric, inexorably tied to its moment of creation, sutures past, present, and future, making time matter.
The gift of fabric, then, is literally, actually a gift that keeps on giving. The tapestries that adorn on my walls and the scarves that caress my neck bless me not only with their beauty and their palpable grace, but also with the temporal traces that weave us all together. In each unique piece, I hear the sun that warms the grass, the sheep that shed their wool, the hands that spin and dye the yarn, the tools that build the loom, the fingers that move the shuttle, silently sing together a chorale of praise to the stuff of creation. And for this blissful texture, I bow in thanks to my friend Maria who has bestowed such stuff upon me time and time again.
Monday, February 21, 2011
Collecting detritus as a profession and/or an avocation has, of course, different inflections in different contexts. See http://www.ecologycenter.org/iptf/Ragpickers/indexragpicker.html for an account of the ways in which Indian ragpickers form a foundational element of the functioning economy, but at the bottom rung of the social ladder. The upper and growing middle classes are encouraged to recycle as a growing social value, while the recyclers themselves are devalued. This reminds me of George Lipsitz's astute observation that the US values Black culture but not Black people.
In this blog, I'm collecting scraps of etymological detritus from low-level online sources, but as scrolled alliterative concatentations they have an anaphoristic, list-poemy feeling to them which dignifies them through iteration and accumulation. I'm collecting writings by others that have been sitting in a virtual file for a few years and stitching them with clumsy big seams into the scroll of the blog. I've been spewing random thoughtlets and half-raveled observations, as well as transfering my own writing from files to public bandwidth. Crudely stitched together into a long shawl of scrawlage, they unwind down the page for your pleasure and to see what happens. What new angle or angel will be revealed? what new language unconcealed?
Knotting, notting (Nottingham was an industrial lace-making center in the UK until the 1960s, when they sent all their industrial lace-making equipment to China) is the creation of something (wearable) through the creation of nothing and vice versa. Is "knot" (or not) the past-tense of "net" the way "rot" is a past-tense of "ret," the process of wetting flax before turning it into linen? What does it mean for negativity to nonetheless be a creation of something tactile, palpable, generative? The dialectic, o yes, the dialectical dance, i'm entranced by its romance, how two make one and on and on.
Woman as negative space is a constant in the tropes and figures of Western expressive culture. The listener, the creator of domestic space through self-cancellation. "All I ever wanted was to make it good for you." It's not all bad. Listening is good; self-effacement means you can be a fly on the wall; strategic camouflage. Keeping someone warm, holding them in your holds and folds.
But the Tate is also the Father. "Tate/Shmate." A dad-rag, an ineffectual, feminized dad, like in Rebel without a Cause, wearing an apron/gladrag and washing the dishes. The absent father is the powerful father, mediated by his Name; the presence of the father vitiates his power; he's just a loveable fool/tool, boytoy.
mid-14c., "clad in slashed garments," from O.N. toturr "rag," cognate with O.E. tættec, tætteca "rag, tatter," Low Ger. tater "tatter." The noun is attested from c.1400.
"ragged child, person dressed in old clothes," c.1600, probably from tatter, with fantastic second element, but perhaps also suggested by Tartar, with a contemporary sense of "vagabond, gypsy."
fabric with small and even check pattern, 1891, so called because it was similar to the traditional design of horse blankets, in ref. to Tattersall's, a famous London horse market and gambler's rendezvous, founded 1766 by Richard Tattersall (1724-95). The surname is from the place in Lincolnshire.
"making of knotted lace," 1832, of uncertain origin. In Fr., frivolité.
late 15c., "to stammer, prattle," in Caxton's translation of "Reynard the Fox," probably from M.Flem. tatelen "to stutter," parallel to M.Du., M.L.G., E.Fris. tateren "to chatter, babble," possibly of imitative origin. The meaning "tell tales or secrets" is first recorded 1580s. Sense influenced by tittle.
formed in English 1888 from tattle + tale. Probably patterned on telltale (1540s). A 16c. word for “tattle-tale” was pickthank.
"signal," 1680s, "signal calling soldiers or sailors to quarters at night," earlier tap-to (1644, in order of Col. Hutchinson to garrison of Nottingham), from Du. taptoe, from tap "faucet of a cask" (see tap (2)) + toe "shut." So called because police used to visit taverns in the evening to shut off the taps of casks. Transf. sense of "drumbeat" is recorded from 1755. Hence, Devil's tattoo "action of idly drumming fingers in irritation or impatience" (1803).
"mark the skin with pigment," 1769 (noun and ver, both first attested in writing of Capt. Cook), from a Polynesian noun (e.g. Tahitian and Samoan tatau, Marquesan tatu "puncture, mark made on skin").
1510s, "tangled or matted" (of hair), Scottish, probably related to O.E. tættec "a rag" (see tatter). Sense of "tattered, ragged, shabby" first recorded 1933.
1866, Iron Age civilization of Europe, from the name of a village in Upper Austria, where implements from this period were found.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
"small piece," late 14c., from O.N. skrap "scraps, trifles," from skrapa "to scrape" (see scrape). Meaning "remains of metal produced after rolling or casting" is from 1790. The verb meaning "to make into scrap" is recorded from 1891. Scrap iron first recorded 1823.
"consisting of scraps, 1837, from scrap (1). Meaning "inclined to fight" (1895) is from scrap (2).
"fight," 1846, possibly a variant of scrape (q.v.) on the notion of "an abrasive encounter." But Weekley suggests obsolete colloquial scrap "scheme, villainy, vile intention" (1670s). The verb is recorded from 1874. Related: Scrapped; scrapping.
cornmeal boiled in scraps of pork, 1855, probably a dim. form of scrap (1).
1825, from scrap + book. As a verb, by 1889.
1590s, from Anglo-Fr. escrowe, from O.Fr. escroue "scrap, roll of parchment," from a Germanic source akin to O.H.G. scrot "scrap, shred" (see scroll (n.)). Originally "a deed delivered to a third person until a future condition is satisfied;" sense of "deposit held in trust or security" is from 1888.
1590s, "thing for drying wet spots," from blot. Meaning "bad writer" is from c.1600. Sense of "day book" is from 1670s, and the word was applied early 19c. to rough drafts, scrap books, notebooks, and draft account books. Hence the police jargon sense "arrest record sheet," recorded from 1887.
mid-14c. (implied in retailing), from O.Fr. retaillier "to cut off, pare, clip, divide," from re- "back" + taillier "to cut, trim" (see tailor). Sense of "recount, tell over again" is first recorded 1590s. The noun meaning "sale in small quantities" is from early 15c., from M.Fr. retail "piece cut off, shred, scrap, paring."
"piece of furniture with drawers for women to put needlework, cloth, etc.," 1806, from Fr. chiffonnier, a transferred use, lit. "rag gatherer," from chiffon, dim. of chiffe "rag, piece of cloth, scrap, flimsy stuff" (see chiffon).
late 15c., from earlier rif and raf "one and all, every scrap" (mid-14c.), from O.Fr. rif et raf, from rifler "to spoil, strip" (see rifle (v.)) and raffler "carry off," related to rafle "plundering" (see raffle).
"thin, spare, with little flesh or fat," O.E. hlæne, possibly from hlænan "cause to lean or bend," from P.Gmc. *khlainijan, which would make it related to O.E. hleonian (see lean (v.)). But perhaps rather from a PIE *qloinio- (cf. Lith. klynas "scrap, fragment," Lettish kleins "feeble").
"worthless stuff," mid-14c., junke "old cable or rope" (nautical), of uncertain origin, perhaps from O.Fr. junc "rush," from L. juncus "rush, reed." Nautical use extended to "old refuse from boats and ships" (1842), then to "old or discarded articles of any kind" (1884). The verb meaning "to throw away as trash, to scrap" is from 1916. Junk food is from 1971; junk art is from 1966; junk mail first attested 1954.
1590s, from L. laceratus, pp. of lacerare "tear to pieces, mangle," from lacer "torn, mangled," from PIE base *leq- "to rend" (cf. Gk. lakis "tatter, rag," lakizein "to tear to pieces;" Rus. lochma "rag, tatter, scrap;" Albanian lakur "naked"). Related: Lacerated; lacerating.
c.1400, "roll of parchment or paper," altered (by association with rolle "roll") from scrowe (early 13c.), from Anglo-Fr. escrowe, O.Fr. escroe "scrap, roll of parchment," from Frank. *skroda "shred" (cf. M.Du. schroode "shred," O.H.G. scrot "piece cut off," Ger. Schrot "log, block, small shot"), from P.Gmc. *skrautha "something cut." The verb meaning "to write down in a scroll" is recorded from c.1600; sense of "show a few lines at a time" (on a computer or TV screen) first recorded 1981. Related: Scrolled; scrolling.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Texture of the shawl of recognition, by Maria Lvovna Zavialova
The VG shawl of recognition is made of strips of differently colored and textured yarn, probably the left-overs of wool and cotton thread that Maria used for other things she was making at the time, or else made from her old knitted things that she turned back into yarn and re-used (a usual procedure for my Russian female relatives more gifted than me in handicrafts whose hands, as the Russian saying goes, were not growing from their asses as were mine, or so I was lead to believe). For me who have not made the shawl, these various shades of purple, brown, and (what I would call) unbleached linen white are pure colors rather than context-bound excerpts from past LIFE. They do not remind me of a favorite woolen sock -- a grandma’s gift, a sweater made for a sister, or an unexpected call from a long-gone friend that interrupted the weaving of this particular purple pattern. For the producer of the shawl, the memories are probably woven into its texture; and hence she is not a producer but an author. And here we arrive at the definition of an author as someone whose memories as well as bits and pieces of her life, are woven into the texture of the product. I can imagine working at a factory and making shawls a dozen items a minute that would not have any memories of mine woven into them, or probably just a little. Which makes authorship a matter of degrees.
I have received the shawl already all of a piece, a single whole unit that does not have a beginning and an end. It is just here. It emerged one moment from nowhere as do things given or bought. It is here for me, to keep me warm on a cold night and to impart beauty to my environment whatever it is, be it my bedroom in a house recently moved into, or an office chair at workplace, or a back seat of somebody’s car. I see it as a single totality, without roots that go deep into the soil. The shawl is not grounded in my soil, a favorite theme with Dostoevsky and other Slavophiles of the late 19th century Russia. It is like a foreign language, not learnt at a mother’s knee and not hardwired into the heart, brain and muscles whose words come and go and you don’t know whence they come or whither they go.
Sometimes I look at its various patterns that never repeat themselves, and see it as a chain of words in a sentence or a kind of speech that has its unique start in the here and now that is gone, inviting a reply that will mark its end and will be a completely different here and now that has not started yet. The shawl unfolds its patterns as I do my casual conversation: I say something that can never ever be repeated in exactly the same way and the words I say cause other words to appear and connect with the previous ones into a pattern that will be impossible to break. This pattern is sealed by Time.
But then again, I turn the shawl upside down and now its beginning is its end and vice versa. It is wonderfully reversible and dyslexic like me – I often type letters in words in a reverse order.
The shawl’s pattern is flowing from one end to the other without that maddening repetitive rhythm that sometimes pops up in nightmares or on Gilman’s yellow wallpaper. Its ends are open-ended and un-culminated, that is, unfinalized. As this short essay will be.
Friday, February 18, 2011
I was cross-stitching a bouquet of forsythia for my mother; the pattern is from one of the beautiful yearly x-stitch calendars published by the Danish Handcraft Guild, an organization whose designers and products are obliquely responsible for my decades of obsession with x-stitch.
It was also autumn, and there was a patch of raspberries in the back alley where I lived, that had been a source of furtive but joyous snacking and had recently suffered from a frost, so the berries were shriveled and inedible but still gorgeous.
I was also entranced with Nathaniel Mackey's poetry.
So here's the piece, which was later published by Manuel Brito's Zasterle Press as part of our collection pleasureTEXTpossession (Canary Islands, Zasterle: 2005). The parts we each wrote are indicated by initials; MD is me, and MA is mIEKAL:
MD: Translations of the horned moon in limnary scripts and liminal screens:
The limnature twined around the golden branch, the laurel sighing her blood-buds into bloom enscrypted in cribbed and crabbled writ-wrinkles. no end to dys-scryption in the tangled metallix of fluid writing, a mass of charged glowing wire.
Penned and panting, a limnature of richesse, embarrassment of enceinture, overflooded by deliverance. The horned moon whispers solace to the pent laurel --limning light on fluid light, silver on hematite metamorph being light and dark at once, in the forests of the night, which sounds like day. Inspiraled day twisting around a sustenance bough, redundancy of images discovering their sentences --plunging upward toward any source of light, all makes a brave flaming by any means necessary.
MA: Scrawlcreatures Inside Unwiredinary
Keem Kum, solid swath of everality, determined in fits of passion & the inverse, thoughts are amplijected worldforth. Your nation scrawled in lyric clips, node to node distorted by humming & non-participation. Looth upward, I claim negligencia for the morning after, laying in the there, hotsome & saying more-than-one-thing-at-once-always. Looth Keem, above the glider, you can hear words in that, under my breath. It's minute sanctity gathered turnstiles of dysruption. I am ever the Decryptor of hissance, & anything else flowery with a lingering sense. By bading a troubled typolect, the distance between words is diminished, she covers me like that. Parataxis Khazana is now more resolute, ample openings have impinged.
MD: The Dance of Internal Trembling/The Dance of Embattled Rapture
don't deny it, you were mercury in my dream, the dream of my mother
standing on my shoulder, mercury the handle-horned moon, yes that was you shadowed in gilt. laurel lapses forthwith, her writing cramped inside a
bark itself overwritten, rough flood of abrasure kisses, thematically
scarred, lips parched and pent, penned on proper nouns like Apollo,
Artemis, the Florid Belt of Jewels, Journey of the Homeless Words toward
their Vortex Source. Her tongue trips over the obvious, the lover long
gone etc, and she plummets toward the upbursting fire work. Infibular
writing stabs a threaded surface wound, peneedle the weapon of
MA: Pullheart on Tugstrings
Some sensetual devices of grammar from a story opposite the enscryption.
Translations bothered to become wireless transgressions, how secretively one can narrow the field of tiny obstacles, hurdled & hurling an Almost But Not Quite. Lickety consolation is no more abrupt or ponderous metaphorically than the very markings themSelves... Who says elegance must descend from upper limit speech, it has done a sungnatra of good beneath the surface of the very zamisdat. Stretch to the point, aghast & homeful, I dare repeat myself in the shimmering I easily mistake for an evolved passage. Now that the books have been burned & Hypatia set free of memory,we can move on if dictation will allow. Or if half a mind is sufficient to carry on in the empty room listeners have reserved for just such an occasion.
MD: Writing Repentant
On today the penitent takes only bitter herbroth and limits word-pour,
Limnature the only beneficiary. “At One” meant no clutter of business and no
superfluid stasis–just the heart of the Mater. An isolated heart yearns
in ritual trembling, forced to eat its own excrescences during the today
difficult stretch. A trove of deliquaries captured in text; the near-blind
boy learned on a primitive press to make the fabled cloth from the dreams
and confessions of a hundred thousand bodhisattvas, wherein were patterned traces of untranslatable joy. As the day was chosen by lunar methods, so she felt in tune with the scripted abjection.
MA: Empressured Writhe Speech
Words are not enough & yet again we go on basking in poetential. Swearslip
from & agileagainst otherstream vernacular. By N By passes you in the night waving, every possible connection between us etchscrypted. The task, it seems to me, she said, going away & still talking into, some articulate curious plumes bibliogising our existence, in fact writing such as future we can call our own, selfsame Olala. Given in blockform metatdict, my sensations are semminated & aphaboliged in contrast with your own. pleasureTEXTpossession lies in wait, a gallery of quilts fabricked slowly over timewhile Threads are commonly twisted as everySOoften my email trades places with you. The very nature of, & to ascrybe to that.
MA&MD: Lassitextual Curtains
The allegory of 2 pens writing unremembered. A stark factory overshadows a sphere, a glass, an unchained dog, some gingko trees. I asked her if she wanted to watch & if that would be enough. Further envelopes revealed other remarks. If this was the day for it, ambiguity talked us into a corner. Pale deceit in light of what had already been said. Referencing, somewhere, strove to slacken the margins of identity. Wild surplus went the way of the rail. If you wish to follow the tracks of her occasional singing repair to the background. Only once did I fail to execute the password with symbolic complexity. The diary ended before allegory could be transcrybed. Short of words, breath has an elaborate orthography. A point: detail. Been clear blue style, long line style, stand in the rain style. A test of patients succumbed to a circle by the time they were cured. Topical, some allowance, simple imagery unreflected nor mutable. Empatterned logos, sure enough, equal length of passage. Protolingus incubating in the Urchive. Injecting a foresooth in place of a downswell.
MD: Rebel Seed, Revel Breath
Forsythia saw the sprig of friendship offered. Petaled down on the long
switch reaches across abyss and touch(thumb)touch spring trickles
underneath, archaeolalia babbling up. is it contrived is it act-as-if
brave and stiff, is it yielding and yellow-green, is it sap in the warm
limbs wanting to wake up and be made new. is it azure or is it blue.
Celestite glints in the yellow depth, hulled vortex of promisex, pliant
braid of complaint, rebel seed of red insurgence to be created.
MA: Caustic Zeal
A sleeve of caution, here, while I have you on the line. There is something wrong with the garden. Its invertebrate, altruistic, squall, parted & gone wild. Numb is different than accounting for windows & mirrors. Even yours. Scratchscrawl cat's paw & the gag she took off, power up, proven. Bitter tastes can be scraped away again attention alertitility. Wandering deficit, always not quite the Enough. Seeker madonna, a dozen tribes scattered over the drift. Lengthwise the stalk was predicting surplus, no one remembered what that might be.
MD: Lamp and Fountain; the Spectral Husband
Two trajectories for lightsound intellection; he pulls the bracelets this way, then that, no give. A general devastation follows the one-word sentence. Serenity seeps in through eyes and skin, but threaded steel cuts the exposed wrists notwithstanding. Lipstick smeared across the screen,
who can light up from inside, who can possibly bring joy now. The click the echo makes a gray sleaze for pronouncing.
A linear embellishment fills in the linen, lumen pouring through stamen.
I send these yellow lines to the spectral husband, they are fountains of light spraying out of barren limnature. Stretching the vessel in a holding pattern, what does it hold in this its heart nested in petals?
Titles Bereft of Text:
A Book of Days, a Daybed, a Friendship Sampler
Token Atonement, Orphaned Morphemes
A Linen Edict, Orphan Epistomology
What to do when honed-in-ironfire exceptional word use and strange neural disposition go courting?
I can't stop here, words jumping out of their skins, to give language to, consumed, down into the whale's hatchet, into ribbed arcana, vast arc of arachnid sinisteria, splendorfear, possessed née desiring-machine brought to life by that young murderer. Those letters I cling to ladder lattice, the lace of writing i make, stiff linen edict –touch my ruff. Imprint raised from the bias, cut on the grid, riddled profusion, muddled fabrication mix. Filmic grid, shattered raddle, cambric diaphane. Heddlemood, sheer jangle shimmer, a ghost in the loom room, a ghost in the studio. A Friendship Sampler, a scandalous voyage –comrade shambles. How to weld a vision of words and linen, ruby lumen, nomen nature, natural name, raspberry numen. Lip stitched to blood linen–ruby spray of raspberries wavers into palpable color. What comes of inched counting? Colorblossom, wanting, profound marooned roses.
Unstoppable overspill of abundant fruits and berries, stitched chain of natural hues, fabricant, barbarous, unhooked and lost nobility of the "real thing" rhapsode --
("an incendiary kiss..."--n. mackey)
Stitchery primping, pulled-thread lost tooth, wobble-pain, to play with, a
set of sets, set phrases interworked, a rough cut cloth unraveling a
roughcut ruby in a fruitberry cluster, lust after those alley-wild
raspberries frozen into cramped nuggets.
Forced fever stitching, bitten lip and knit fingers, crimped line,
firelies, shped sun–a forsythia gift. A rift of yellow switches, a raft
carried rapt away, a moses-cradle basket-boat adrift, a grief ode. Grid
lain over a chaos of rapture, a yarning pierced by needle, burst burnish of
lustered stone. Rapture athwart its own clumsy beauty–
a raft-basket of sprigs --the light shines through their crude weave–
painstaking precedent tracery–
a lattice of jeweled light– "hell...with many windows open onto heaven..."
every crossroads a window–every vortext a seed, an atom vacated–a
spilt of tongues...
Meshing days in gauze, squeeze whey thru cloth–token atonement, orphan
episteme... stamble... grutt...mu...
a strait line to the fate...cusped curtailed abrupt.
MD: Threadmonster Writecross
The crack in the white wall is its written wound. History leaks out in
toxic magic toxic, a word-dice game. Throat-thread pulls tongue-clipped
song, what does a torture trace on the hourly passage? We stretch the
writing beyond its comfort limit, it cries for us to stop, the crying
sounds like writing, the rain on the skylight types its own story and then
melts. when tongue touched cell wall in a soul kiss, the lad in my tale
felt release, responding to his lover encrypted in a casement of fancy
dreams. To tan the flayed surface, to stretch the tale, to distort the
frame, to mangle to need to wet. A display of stab- skill, a patterned
branding, a spired quilting of translated flesh. No mesh is fine enough,
no weave too rough, a spiral delusion can't sustain itself on digraphic
Sometimes the beauty of the materials I work with supersedes the beauty of what I make from them. I diminish them by narrowing their vast potential into an object. I feel this especially about yarn and embroidery floss. And poetry; what lines can equal the glorious potential of the alphabets and sounds? Adeena Karasick refers to letters of the alphabet as "wriggly insignias." What could be a better representation of wriggly insignias than these twirling curly ringletty whorls of skeins?
The floss I use for cross-stitching is Danish Flower Thread. Flower thread is the generic name for non-glossy cotton embroidery thread; Danish Flower Thread (Dansk Blomstergarn) is the official thread used by the Danish Handcraft Guild (Håndarbejdet's Fremme). When I come across it in the US I used to buy out the store's supply because I considered it such a rarity, but now that I live in Minneapolis, a city that fetishizes its Scandinavian immigrant heritage, I've got a steady source at Ingebretsen's Scandinavian Gifts. In fact, I can't possibly in my lifetime use up the flower thread I've already got.
This need for over-abundance suggests also the addict's itch for color, materials, textures, the desire to bury my fingers in skeins and loops and exultations of spun and spinnable yarn-thread-stuff, to revel in it immersively forever without any pretense toward mastery.
This photo only begins to suggest the squirmy, wormy, brainlike lump of vibrant life of embroidery materials.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Here's a little shmata, a shreddy raggedy token, for the marvelous Jen Bervin, a high-art textile artist and poet. By contrast I consider myself not exactly a lowlife but not so high art in my aspirations, theoretical orientation, or execution. Here are pix of it before and after I've pressed it, because i like the raggediness of the half-made.
Speaking of shreds, the word refers to cuttings, dried and shriveled skin (is anyone else thinking of ritual cuts that remove skin from sensitive organs in a potentially traumatizing, but also identity-giving way? Being marked through being cut), and is related to the word "shroud." Reminds me of the strips of papyrus found wound around mummies during the great archaeological excavations of the late 19th c, and the discovery of Sappho's poetry, which until then had been only legendary and apocryphal, in fragments that dissolved even as the archaeologists unwound them from the ritually desiccated bodies they had been ritually bound around.
Shredding also refers to electric guitar playing of a highly intense nature, no?
Thinking of any interesting addenda? Please contribute!
O.E. screade "piece cut off," from W.Gmc. *skraudas (cf. M.L.G. schrot "piece cut off," O.H.G. scrot, "a cutting, piece cut off," Ger. Schrot "small shot," O.N. skrydda "shriveled skin"), from PIE base *skreu- "to cut, cutting tool" (cf. L. scrutari "to search, examine," from scruta "trash, frippery;" O.E. scrud "dress, garment;" see shroud). The verb is from O.E. screadian "prune, cut" (cf. M.Du. scroden, Du. schroeien, O.H.G. scrotan, Ger. schroten "to shred"). Shredded wheat is recorded fron 1899; shredder in the paper disposal sense is from 1950.
1570s, agent noun from shred.
1841, "young cod, split and fried or boiled," possibly from Du. schrood "piece cut off," from M.Du. scrode "shred" (cf. O.E. screade, see shred). If this is the origin, the notion is probably of fish cut into pieces for drying or cooking.
A Boston brahmin is on a business trip to Philadelphia. In search of dinner, and hungry for that Boston favorite, broiled scrod, he hops into a cab and asks the driver, "My good man, take me someplace where I can get scrod." The cabbie replies, "Pal, that's the first time I've ever been asked that in the passive pluperfect subjunctive."
Other white silk scarves for literary guiding spirits:
For Kamau Brathwaite and Allen Ginsberg, I made white silk scarves, as befitting elders of the edgy, risk-taking poetry community of the Americas and beyond; Kamau responded w/ a “’Nansi photograph” which turned out to be central to his most recent book, Born to Slow Horses, in which spirit photography of a spider that turns into a ghost slave woman comprises the crux and climax. I don't have a photo of that one.
Ginsberg incorporated the gift of the white silk scarf into the final ad libbed portion of his 1994 reading at the University of St. Thomas, a Minneapolis college known primarily for its business programs and a few other professional training programs such as its teaching certification programs and so forth. Because of this reputation for commodity and commodification, the deeply Christian St. Thomas wanted to boost its image in the humanities by inviting the best-known poet in the United States, the pedophilic, Jewish socialist Buddhist Allen Ginsberg, without fully realizing what they were in for.
It had been Ginsberg’s habit to make connections with attractive young men during the course of his readings and gigs across the country, and as he grew older his loneliness became more apparent and his entreaties more direct, though he had never been shy about this to begin with. At the conclusion of this reading, Ginsberg, accompanying himself on the harmonium as usual, burst into an extended and extemporized riff on his stay so far, which included a plea to the audience to buy an extravagantly priced ($500) special, hand-printed and silkscreened Coffee House Press edition of a small book chronicling his first encounter with Peter Orlovsky, an accounting of the gift of a “brand-new white silk scarf” in the parking lot of the auditorium, and a last-ditch offer that any interested young men who wanted to share his bed that evening meet him immediately after the reading at his book-signing station in the auditorium lobby. Audience members responded with a range of delight, horror and amusement; they were getting the real thing, the undiluted arts and humanities.
In the summer of 1995, I saw Allen at Naropa University’s summer Writing Program, and in the course of a dinner hosted by Lee Ann Brown and Steven Taylor mentioned the scarf to him. Yes, he said; he’d had that scarf for quite a long time. I’m not sure what that meant, but I was touched that he wanted me to believe he remembered it at all. The grandiosity of my faith in the aura of a handmade (by me) textile was not especially tested, because the aura resides in something beyond the particulars of personal exchange.
Years later (2008) I was at the MLA convention in San Francisco; I strolled over to City Lights Books to cruise their amazing selection of books, of which, to quote Ring Lardner (?), they have a full set. Browsing through a nice coffeetable book of Chris Felver’s photos of elderly beat writers, I found to my astonishment two of Allen wearing the scarf and standing iconically in the arched doorway of City Lights. You can imagine the handworker’s secret thrill that surged through me, now publicly acknowledged to you all, secret no more. Of course I bought the book and showed everyone I could corner.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Walter Benjamin writes that
the ragpicker is the most provocative figure of human misery. "Ragtag
And Leo Spitzer (http://www.jstor.org/pss/2909131) traces the etymology of ragamuffin back through rigamarole to rag(e)man (the devil) and Rehoboam (?could be related to Rahab: name of a Biblical monster, from Heb. rahab, lit. "storming, against, impetuous," from rahabh "he stormed against" (cf. Arabic rahiba "he feared, was alarmed")), the overly harsh Israelite king, in Spitzer's brilliant, linguistic-detritus-gathering article "Ragamuffin, Ragman, Rigmarole, Rogue," Modern Language Notes, 62:2 (February 1947), pp. 85-93. Please note that this was published in 1947, right after the war that killed Walter Benjamin, right after the fall of the Reich that turned people like Benjamin and Spitzer into garbage, refuse, detritus. Both were writing against their own disposal, both were salvaging, scavenging every bit of human language/consciousness/activity, from the most noble to the most abject, and making strong connections between artistic practice and ragpicking.
early 14c., probably from O.N. rogg "shaggy tuft," earlier raggw-, or possibly from O.Dan. rag (see rug), or a back-formation from ragged (c.1300), which is from O.N. raggaðr "shaggy," via O.E. raggig "rag-like." It also may represent an unrecorded O.E. cognate of O.N. rogg. As an insulting term for "newspaper, magazine" it dates from 1734; slang for "tampon, sanitary napkin" is attested from 1930s. Rags "personal clothing" is from 1855, Amer.Eng. Rags-to-riches "rise from poverty to wealth" is attested by 1896.
"scold," 1739, of unknown origin; perhaps related to Dan. dialectal rag "grudge." Related: Ragged; ragging.
1820, from rag (n.) + bag. Fig. sense of "motley collection" is first recorded 1864.
1788, from Skt. raga-s "harmony, melody, mode in music," lit. "color, mood," related to rajyati "it is dyed."
mid-14c., from M.E. raggi "ragged" + fanciful ending (or else second element is M.Du. muffe "mitten"). Ragged was used of the devil from c.1300 in reference to "shaggy" appearance. Used by Langland as the name of a demon (cf. O.Fr. Ragamoffyn, name of a demon in a mystery play); sense of "dirty, disreputable boy" is from 1580s.
c.1300, from O.Fr. raige (11c.), from M.L. rabia, from L. rabies "madness, rage, fury," related to rabere "be mad, rave." Related to rabies, of which this is the original sense. Similarly, Welsh (cynddaredd) and Breton (kounnar) words for "rage, fury" originally meant "hydrophobia" and are compounds based on the word for "dog" (Welsh ci, plural cwn; Breton ki). The verb is mid-13c., originally "to play, romp;" meaning "be furious" first recorded c.1300. Related: Raged; raging. The rage "fashion, vogue" dates from 1785.
"rough, shaggy," c.1300, pp. adj. from rag (n.), but earliest use is not directly from the main sense of that word and may reflect a broader, older meaning. Of clothes, early 14c.; of persons, late 14c.
1890, from ragged + -y (2). Raggedy Ann doll first attested 1918. Raggedy-ass by 1930.
insulting term for "South Asian or Middle Eastern person," 1921, from rag + head.
in Norse mythology, the last battle of the world, in which gods and men will be destroyed by monsters and darkness, 1770, from O.N. ragna, gen. of regin "the gods" + rök "destined end" or rökr "twilight."
1650s, from Fr. ragoût (mid-17c.), from M.Fr. ragoûter "awaken the appetite," from O.Fr. re- "back" + à "to" + goût "taste," from L. gustum (nom. gustus); see gusto.
1820, from rag (n.) + tag; originally in expression rag-tag and bobtail "the rabble" (tag-rag and bobtail is found in 1659), from bobtail "cur," 1619. Tag and rag was "very common in 16-17th c." [OED]
"syncopated, jazzy piano music," 1897 (in song title "Mississippi Rag" by W.H. Krell), from rag "dance ball (1895, Amer.Eng. dialect), possibly a shortening of ragged, in reference to the rhythmic imbalance.
"convertible car," 1955, from rag + top (1).
1790, from ragged + weed; so called from shape of the leaves. Applied to a different plant, ragwort, from 1650s. Ragwort itself is attested from mid-15c. (see wort).
needle, bobbin, spindle, treadle, heddle, shuttle, raddle, teasel, niddy-noddy, etc.
Can you think of others? Please post suggestions to this lexical roster.
Because "loom," etymologically, works its way back to meaning "that familiar old tool," the "le" suffixes at the end of these words suggest intimacy, the way German or Yiddish diminutives work to confer affection on the named one: "Hansel" and "Gretel" rather than the formal "Johannes" and "Margrethe."
Sounds that create intimacy and proximateness (closeness) and that are also fun for kids (or adults) to say suggest that these were instruments and tools of quotidien familiarity. Does it also suggest a slight infantilization or diminution of status, as in "women's work," or am I trying to introduce conflict into this edenic scene of cozy domesticity?
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Open Up and Bleed: for James Osterberg
In this token, for the inimitable Iggy Pop, I’ve used super-bright colors in accord with the flamboyance of its dedicatee. Also I’ve used silver metallic thread for two reasons: one, because one of his famous accessories was a silver lamé glove; two, because the rays of upward-shooting silver in the piece are meant as complements to the downward pouring red. The shiny red, of course, represents the blood that Iggy literally shed during performances (“open up and bleed”), and also the “blood, sweat and tears” of the legendary energy he gave to each performance, bringing to each gig a mythic sense of performance and ritual sacrifice and celebration. The red blood goes into the earth as an embodied, gravitational force; the silver, on the other hand, is a sort of ejaculate or spiritual energy evanescing skyward: heaven and earth in little space, the gyrating human body. Breath too, as silver is ephemeral and breath is the substance of song and the animal/angel voice. Iggy’s performances embody the yearning of a libidinized spirituality, id melded with superego, acting-out virtually indistinguishable from sublimation, masochism and narcissism from mysticism, the human body trying to go beyond itself.
The word that is spelled out by the distorted, elaborate lettering–some of which is also outlined in silver (hard to see in pixilated reproduction, but clear in the original)–is “OBSESS,” starting with the O in the center (O-mind, Stoogese for the trance-state induced by their music, simultaneously void and full; also, the blue “TV Eye,” the storm-center of spectacularized sexual desire) and swirling in a spiral around that center: BSESS, with the final S doubled like the double-O (“stOOge”) for extra hallucinatory effect. There is an acknowledgment that some degree of obsessiveness is necessary for artistic achievement, but that, like much of what is spectacular about Iggy’s career, is a double-edged broken bottleneck. That is why I’ve left the needle in the piece: to signify that at any moment, its artistic use can be chosen over its destructive use, and the piece is never fully finished. I was touched by Iggy’s explanation, on his Tom Snyder 1980s interview, of the difference between Apollonian and the Dionysian modalities of art-making: I had always understood that difference as order-v-chaos, or discipline-v-energy, or form-v-content, but he explained the two modes as embodying different relationships to temporality: his Dionysianism is an event, a performance characterized by plasticity, movement, orgiastic and ritual activity; its Apollonian analogue would be a sculpture, a rigid, finalized, signed end-product from which the artist could then walk away. Leaving the needle means that Iggy’s life is his performance, it’s a process, not a product. The piece is never finished, and simultaneously it’s always complete just the way it is. The title “open up and bleed,” ostensibly a salacious command to lose one’s virginity (whatever that may be), is more properly an exhortation to the self to continue to perform, to “give it up,” to pick up the art-making needle every day. Needles were among the earliest tools (26,000 BC), predating, for example, pottery etc.; the joining-together of animal skins needles made possible was crucial for the development of further civilization. Iggy is both primitive and prescient, idiot and genius. Moreover, writers like myself can’t help but be struck by the kinship of needles and pens (pins…), the tools of inscription, scarification, symbol-making.
Moreover, after the fact I discover the telegraphic “SOS” bisecting the piece on the diagonal; It echoes “Search and Destroy”’s plea that “somebody gotta save my soul,” but also answers it: artmaking is a spiritual and self-saving, soulful practice.
Here is a token to acknowledge what I feel I’ve been given–vitality, life force, fun, depth, intensity, presence–by Iggy Pop’s art.
Here it is, this Banff-mandated experiment. My new blog will, I hope, be a way to generate writing and ideas for my larger Text, Textile, Exile project, which is more of a floating matrix (constellation, in Benjamin's terminology) than a form into which content will be poured.
Please send useful links, other blog suggestions and so forth so i can make this as interactive as possible.
Why Do I Use Elaborate “Fonts”?
This is a question I was asked by my colleague Qadri Ismail, who can be counted on to ask engaging questions and who has become interested in the modernist and contemporary visual arts of his native Sri Lanka, especially those paintings that concern the political conflicts that have consumed much of his country’s energies in the past half-century or so.
No one had ever asked me that, and I took the question to mean a couple of related things. Whether or not this is what Qadri had in mind, I found it useful to proceed to answer what I thought he was asking as a way to clarify what I do and why.
I took his question to mean, first, that elaborate lettering is a sign of elitism and elegance; and second, relatedly, that elaborate lettering indicates old-fashioned, or at least pre-modernist, aesthetic values.
I use elaborate “fonts” in order to foreground the materiality of the letters and by extension, the materiality of language. Like contemporary graffiti, these hyper-rococo, distended, or otherwise distorted letters underscore the “defamiliarization,” or ostranenie, in Viktor Shklovsky’s terminology, that forms the basis of the literary. We are in the realm of the imagination, of people trying to create something. The same old same old can’t be taken for granted but must be challenged. Letters’ and words’ use as instruments of domination without substance of their own must be destabilized, and this challenge is mind-opening. The illumination of letters illuminates the mind by posing a puzzlement: how to read the letter? It’s not a transparent window onto meaning; it must be confronted as an (art) object itself. Traditionally, letters have been illuminated in manuscripts to indicate their status as sacred, and to mark the beginning of a page or passage, an entryway into the world of the text, where different things become possible. It’s a sort of threshold, or border. The words “border” and “embroider” may have etymological kinship; hems and edges are often areas that attract the embellishment of the needle arts, and borders, in eco-systems, are where the most diversity, the most abundant, varied and proliferant animal and plant life flourishes. So the ornamentation of the letters, their being turned into ornaments, marks them as unnatural, as cultural “constructions,” as the old phrase has it, and as cultural creations. At the same time, they are a connective tissue of communication, and this element of their being is materialized by their being rendered in tissue; in cloth and in the elements of cloth: thread, yarn. I initially wrote “threat” and “yearn” here, by error, because words and letters do, after all, signify affectively and cognitively. In the Kabbalistic tradition, letters are spiritual emanations of divine energy, and each has its special divine properties, they are “vessels of fiery potential,” just as in astrology or numerology each configuration or number has characteristics. That they are somewhat abstract–shapes and signs rather than images, which are forbidden–makes them more appropriate representations of the Divine. Paleolinguist and textile scholar E. J. W. Barber postulates that sewing for necessity (joining pieces of animal hide together with needles for shelter or clothing) is contemporaneous in origin with, not precedent to, ornamentation. She observes that the oldest needle archaeologists have found dates from about 23,000 BC, the Paleolithic era; remains of two humans, an adult woman and a male child, each wearing a hat ornamented with three stones sewn into them through central piercings, date from about the same period. The row of three small stones is an ornamentation that supercedes (supplements but is not of a secondary order) the garment’s creatural utility, suggesting that their presence has ritual purpose, though ornamentation in a secular society has come to suggest a second-order, decorative, self-regarding impulse. Thus the ornate is inseparable from the origins of culture, of made-ness and reflection on it: “ornate” anagrams “orante,” the woman who prays.
The other reason–or an other reason–I use ornate fonts is precisely this idea of “old-fashioned”ness. In most, but not all, cases, the cleanliness of modernist style is what I want to avoid; modernist precision is, in its way, more “elitist” –whatever that means, really–than the earnest, petit-bourgeois desire for fanciness whose pathos is at the heart of the “bad poetry” I find so valuable. In the same way that outsider poetry is often marked by indices of passé poetic values–flowery diction, rhyme, contrived or clumsy metaphor–the overly fancy letter suggests a “wannabe” status, the outsider looking in and imitating, in exaggerated and slightly awkward gestures, what s/he perceives as elegance. S/he is not even a parvenue, but a wannabe parvenue. Nancy Spungen dyeing her hair blonde and crying to her mother that even her friends don’t want to spend time with her. John Keats overusing words like “sweet” in order to be poetic, much to the condescending amusement of the literati of his day.