The Epic Post-Easter Basket
Sunday, April 7th, 2013
The Epic Post-Easter Basket: The title of none of Joey Yearsus-Algozin’s works under consideration, all of which may be found here: at the Troll Thread Collective.
Recently, which is where I left my glasses, I wrote a small note for Harriet* about what I’ve been reading recently, in which the poetry of Joey Yeasous-Algozin was highlighted. This is what is known as critical cross-pollination. That is to say, in my imagination, the world of poetry is an ever-expanding field, populated by many different kinds of poetry and poetry-lovers, some of whom read here, some of whom read there, all flitting gaily about, dropping names, trailing stingers, and leaving the brightly-colored traces of their readings in the sticky hearts and minds of yet other busy readers. I should also add that in my imagination, the women are all strong and the men, uniformly, pretty. And strong and pretty is Joey Yeasous-Algozin, who publishes as part of the Troll Thread Collective.
One of Yearous-Algozin’s ongoing concerns is The Lazarus Project, a series of poetry books that are downloadable (gratis) or printable (cost), according to your taste. The series takes mediated accounts, primarily cinematic or otherwise transcribed, of death and destruction and revives them by way of incessant reanimation. Reanimation tactics include lists of names of the dead, followed by the same list as beginning to move, and the piling on of bodies, followed by an itemized account of those bodies coming back to life. It should be prefatorily noted that The Lazarus Project was also a 2008 thriller in which criminal Ben is executed by way of lethal injection, then gets a hallucinatory second chance within the confines of an errant psychiatric institution, and is as well the website of a non-profit North Carolina organization at which visitors may post memories of those lost to overdose. This is a tip: with Yearous-Algozin’s poetry, we are in the place where the Imaginary is Real,* or as Real as anything else, and all are imbricated within a symbolic mode of production and reception that cannot be ignored as part of the poetry itself. It’s the sugar that the acid of legend and song used to sit on.
Thus, the volume The Lazarus Project: Night and Fog is a narrative recitation of that part of the 1955 French documentary film in which the atrocities of Auschwitz were described, though this time genocide’s over-determinations are given a manically happy ending:
Moving over a rich field of flowers; the table, the barrels and open crates no longer hold the dried skin, bins of dried skin, and cakes of soap made from bodies and the human heads and shriveled corpses as the dried skin and bins of dried skin and cakes of soap made from bodies and the shriveled corpses and human heads that were on the table and packed into barrels and open crates come back to life
THE MACHINE GETS UNDERWAY. THE MACHINE IS STILL. THE MACHINE GETS UNDERWAY. THE MACHINE IS STILL. THE MACHINE GETS UNDERWAY. THE MACHINE IS STILL. THE MACHINE GETS UNDERWAY. THE MACHINE IS STILL.
At the moment, pictures are taken a few moments before extermination.
Moving over a rich field of flowers; pictures are no longer taken moments before extermination as those whose pictures were taken moments before extermination come back to life
“At the moment” then signifying the terminus as a spot in time that is as a prick in its fabric, the pointless of death; while the “moving over a rich field of flowers” smoothes the pucker, and does so through the force of repetition and accretion. Too, portraying the Shoah sans image underscores the way this text rejects any point as potential punctum. Throughout The Lazarus Project, Yearous-Algozin manages a neat tightrope-trope of persistently subliminated subjectivity: the structural desire of the subject to quash death qua death, a universal and singular desire, is maintained coeval to the need for death to give the subject a structured animus, that singularly universal endeavor of getting up in the morning no matter what, no matter where. Put another way, Lazarus was God’s own parlor trick—after all, simply bestowing life everlasting is not only much duller than dying then reviving, but it lacks the panache of a punchline. Philosopher Alenka Zupančič has argued that whereas tragedy is the dialectical movement from the individual to the universal (Oedipus to his Complex), the comic is the dialectical shift from the universal to the individual (Fogel to McLovin). The rules do not apply in the comic universe; the rules constitute the tragic. The unarticulated subject in Yearous-Algozin’s project is a comic subject, betraying as it does the subject’s deepest desire that death be as immaterial and temporary as when Tom massacres Jerry or, in the brilliant reveals of the Three Stooges, who cast the great pitch and moment of our demise as just another bit of shtick: “One move out of you, and I’ll kill you.” “If you do, I’ll never talk to you again.” Death—it’s the fun drive.*
But maybe it is a tragicomic subject as well, for in The Lazarus Project: Nine Eleven, media narrative accounts of the September 2001 attack, cast in the recent past tense (“Terrorists struck the United States Tuesday morning in harrowing, widespread attacks that included at least three commercial jet crashes into significant buildings.”) are interspersed with an alphabetic reanimation of the names of the dead (“The body of Gordon M. Aamoth Jr. begins to move / The body of Marie Rose Abad begins to move / The body of Edelmiro Abad begins to move / The body of Andrew Cross Abate begins to move…”). As the media accounts begin to pile on adjectives (“one of the most horrifying attacks ever”) and ancillary details (“the twin 110-story towers”), the body count rises with the bodies. But the bodies, though individually named, remain as listed, scripted, scrolled as the unnamed corpses of Auschwitz, while the New York narratives dilate and contract in form and content—they breathe in a way the bodies yet can’t. Suggesting that the real animation occurs in the flatter, more received representation, that perhaps Clement Greenberg was right that the thinner medium (in that case, Abstract Expressionism, in this case, of mainstream media) is the more expressive in terms of its medium-specificity and reflexivity. Reportage contains, quite literally. Put another way, the report as such is a means of framing the containment of the Real, of hiding the radicalism of mimesis by passing it off as simply realistic.
This is not infrathin any more, it’s just skin, pocked with pores. So The Lazarus Project: Alien vs. Predator, is and is not the 2004 film in which the two “creepiest creatures from two epic thrillers face off in the ultimate showdown,”* as the book’s cover is the face sheet of a 2004 House subcommittee hearing titled “Alien Removals under Operation Predator.” While its contents are, if not a face off, contain at least one apparent bureaucratic about-face:
And with that the Alien is shot as it comes over the roof’s edge
And with that the Alien comes back to life
And with that Bertha’s wheels grind to life, spilling Aliens and crushing
them under its treads
And with that the Alien’s crushed under Bertha’s tires come back to life
And with that one of the Aliens is pulverized by the falling debris, but the
And with that the Alien that did not survive comes back to life
Members of the public are
encouraged to call
The larger poetic argument in this is on its face: both productions serve the same ticklish nightmares that make us want buckets of buttered popcorn in the dark. The law is structured like the unconscious.
The Lazarus Project: Heaven is composed of three sections: “One” is an alphabetized list of the names of the dead of the Jonestown Massacre followed by the phrase, “drank from the vat with the Green C on it.” “Two” is a transcription of Reverend Jim Jones’ remarks at the death-scene, including some talk of reincarnation and revival; “Three” is the same list of names followed by the phrase, “returned from the other side.” It should be noted that there is no period (terminus) at the end of these sentences, or any of The Lazarus Project’s sentences of death or animation (unlike the sentences of narrated history, such as the 9/11 accounts). To this reader, the three sections work as a triptych, which is a trinity, which represents the three states of matter: solid, liquid, gas. We can note that flesh is that oh-too-solid thing, that language then acts as lubricant, speech putting the salve in salvation and the prey in prayer, and gas is that which rises and what makes bodies bloat. Just like the hundreds of Jonestown corpses, a fact duly noted by those choppered in who could not save the day. And although there have been many movies about Jonestown, the mediation in Heaven does not appear to be directly cinematic, and may be a reference instead to the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s 1998 album “Strung Out in Heaven.” Or maybe not, though there is something in the rhythms of this Heaven that would play well in the former band’s jangly Stones-Velvet Underground tones.
Yearous-Algozin’s other work includes: 9/11 911 Calls in 911 Pt. Font, as big and bold and beautiful as the scream it sounds, no page large enough to hold any one letter, which happens to be the size of tragedy as it is found. Too, as critic Patrick Greaney has recently alerted me, artist Ian Wilson once wrote: “Conceptual art presented in a typeface larger than 12 points causes a reference to a place other than the consciousness of the reader.”* The 911-point font appropriately dislodges the 911 calls from their site-specificity (site being a matter of both history and geography), and puts them squarely into the register of the Event, which is the oddly ahistorical historical moment, or what we might call epic poetry. To be reductive, epic poetry concerns itself with the subjectification of the object (the battle, Achilles’ shield, e.g.), while the lyric is involved in the objectification of the subject (you know who you are). See comic/tragic above.
The subjectification of the object in Yearous-Algozin’s work may be compared in this sense to the objectification of the subject in Steve Zultanski’s recent book, Agony (BookThug), the first volume of a trilogy of confessional poems. As described, Agony uses “semi-rigorous mathematical and logical constraints to view the author’s life and body.” And so, after setting out a series of facts regarding the average number of tears shed in a human lifetime and average human physiognomy and general actuarial information:
And so, so far, in my lifetime, I’ve shed about 45.181% of my body’s water in tears.
Since tears are mostly water.
Let me see here.
We can assume that if, instead of crying now and again, at moments in which my emotions are particularly pitched, I cried all my tears at once, in one single feat of spasmodic emotional courage, I would dehydrate myself.
This is perhaps why feelings are so constant, so as not to be simultaneous, which would end in dehydration.
We can see that this movement is a progression of the lyric into what some might call the conceptual lyric, where the “I,” as object-self, still serves as the poetic fulcrum, as POV, or, more particularly, the point of focus, the lens through and with which one views, i.e., lyric’s real Copernican compass. As such, its pleasures are nestled in the subversive, itself a literary and poetic tradition epitomized by the confessional poem itself. In other words, Zultanski’s book articulates within the transgressive register that has institutionalized these kinds of poetry-books. The book as such is important here because the object-self needs an object-container. Whereas the subjectification of the object found in Yearous-Algozin’s works has no comforts of precedent beyond the contemporary. There is no object, or at least not necessarily, for the point of focus shifts and creeps, and only exists by way of the desire on the part of the receiver to hear what’s being said. Flipping Althusser on his head, the citizen forces the cop to call. Print on demand, as it were, is the printing of the demand. And the demand is new, or, more significantly, now. While we may profitably argue whether the exhortation to “make it new” is anything more than a hoary appellation, and maybe it is, and maybe this is the beauty of it, each of these approaches does make it now. And one makes it very unpleasant indeed. But then perhaps this is the difference between the epic and the lyric registers. The epic forces the mimetic hand, holding up too strong a mirror to the fact and fancy of imitation, where the lyric relies on the imaginary to soften its contours even as it insists on its emotional bona fides. So that while conceptualism, which can hardly be deemed a single thing now, has been criticized as being insufficiently poetic, perhaps the problem was that it was merely insufficiently lyric. And over-sufficiently epic. And, as such, uncomfortably overblown. First time farce, second time tragedy.
As I’ve also mentioned elsewhere, the hive that is the Troll Thread Collective* is publishing some of the most dangerous and dumb poetry around. I don’t want to over-explicate my use of either term, but it should be understood that dangerous needs be dumb, for articulation—that is to say, the saying of the thing directly—leads more or less inevitably to comprehension, which tends towards understanding, which is the precursor to empathy, which plods towards acceptance, which is what has happened most famously in the Netherlands. And, as Camus knew, there is no circle of hell lower than the Netherlands.
* Poetry’s blog, an explicatory endnote that makes us both look fairly coy.
* Let’s agree that by the Real we are not stupidly referring to something considered as a single-spotted or even de rigueur prismatic reality, but rather something more stupidly understood as that inchoate this that we are just trying to wrap our heads around. The silence stuffed between the words, so to speak.
* Speaking in Freudian terms. Put another way, the incessant reanimation in these works also enacts the psychoanalytic argument that the death drive is the transcendent drive, the one that compels production of that which will, with luck, serve our immortality. Of course, the incessant reanimation also enacts the fact that in death, difference is simply repetition.
* As described by Netflix.
* Ian Wilson. “Conceptual Art,” Artforum. Vol. 22, Issue 6 (February 1984) p. 60.
* Metaphors don’t die, they just dry on the sills of summer windows.
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