Saturday, November 7, 2009

Communities of Destination 2: "Radicant Aesthetics" (Nicolas Bourriaud)

[sign by Lian Lederman]

I'm off to Australia (Sydney and Melbourne) soon to talk about Tinfish and to give a couple of readings from my own work (as it were). So the blog provides a way station to thinking toward the issues I want to touch on there, issues of editing and location, language and translation, networks and distribution (the former always easier than the latter). I apologize to readers for the inevitable repetitions involved in thinking about how Tinfish books talk to one another, and why those conversations might matter.

Nicolas Bourriaud
's The Radicant provides an apt field for thinking these issues through, or if not "through," then wandering around these issues rather than blundering into them. As I did in my last post, I will use Bourriaud's book as a generative backboard for thoughts about Tinfish. Contemporary wisdom, like so many things, suffers from a short lifespan, fly-like, and precarious. One of Bourriaud's key words is "precarious": "the lifespan of objects is becoming shorter and shorter," he writes, as consumerist culture feeds off the disposable thing, rather than the heirloom. (During my recent trip to California, I heard tomatoes referred to as "heirloom," which seemed to be a good thing, though it suggests old age and attics to me.) In the art economy, old things can still be precious: I think of the old printing machines at the California Center for the Book, or the recycled materials Tinfish uses to make some of our covers.

As with all such states, precariousness has its down-side, and its up. Bourriaud refers to "a positive precariousness, or even an aethetic of uncluttering, of wiping the hard disk" (85). Hard to see the positive when the hard disk being wiped involves one's job or one's way of working or one's traditions of knowing. But if that wiping can become a process of "editing" (99) in art, rather than one of random and violent cutting, perhaps we're onto something. In any case, Bourriaud suggests an aesthetic of wandering, in which the artist becomes what he terms a "semionaut." Which brings me to bullet-points (not to instigate a violence on my own text here) about Tinfish Press.

On wandering itself:

***Our next full-length book, Remember to Wave, by Kaia Sand, includes a guided walk through Portland, Oregon. This is a walk that she has taken, and led. The walk is at once across the contemporary city and into its (hidden) past, so that the observer is shown not simply what is there but also ghostly presences of what was. The histories of Japanese-American internment and of African-American containment emerge out of the city as she walks it, and as her words walk across documents related to these historical moments. Barbara Jane Reyes walks San Francisco in Poeta en San Francisco, encountering homeless Vietnam vets, malign presences to her as a racialized Filipina-American, but living reminders of a past Americans largely want hidden. Hazel Smith's long poem, "The Body and the City," from The Erotics of Geography, presents a woman who walks the streets of a city, seeing it in various ways--as dream, as deconstruction, as "post-tourism," as a female geography, and as a historical place (she reaches back to the medieval city).

***For those who do not walk through the city, there are those who are transported on TheBus in poems by Ryan Oishi and Gizelle Gajelonia (in her parody of Stevens in Tinfish #19 and in a forthcoming chapbook, 13 Ways of Looking at TheBus). There are the diasporic poets, Yunte Huang, Linh Dinh, Caroline Sinavaiana, each engaged in an archeology of cultures and possible selves.

Bourriaud quotes Claude Levi-Strauss: "'a journey occurs simultaneously in space, in time and in the social hierarchy'" (123). A journey in space is also a trip into memory. The time-tourist also has responsibilities.

On language / translation:

***The precariousness of local languages, as evidenced in Lisa Kanae's Sista Tongue and Lee Tonouchi's Living Pidgin: Contemplations on Pidgin Culture. Languages that travel, but with difficulty: Jacinta Galea`i's Aching for Mango Friends, about a girl who moves back and forth from Samoa, where her family is from, to Seattle, where she is educated in the American way. (She does this with an awareness of the problems, but without the bitter nostalgia that characterizes some post-colonial literature.) Craig Santos Perez recently reviewed the chapbook and commented on the use of Samoan words and phrases within the English text:

"Although some may read this as an exclusion, I read it as an intimate inclusion into another’s native space. Once I surrender the desire to translate, the untranslated naturalizes the foreignness of my relation to the characters. Semoana does not worry about others not understanding; instead, she speaks Samoan because she is Samoan, affirming that she needs to translate her cultural identity only to herself."

***And so the refusal to translate, which one finds more strongly yet in Barbara Jane Reyes's Poeta en San Francisco. I sense that she is now more willing to translate, but respect her decision in this book not to. Extended sections in Tagalog and Baybayin, as well as frequent "lapses" into Spanish, create a difficult reading environment that (at least in echo) enacts some of the difficulties of colonialization and immigration.

***Second language English, like Linh Dinh's, or that found in Goro Takano's new BlazeVox book. The barriers to comprehension are smaller than those in BJR's book, but still pronounced. So that the reader much do the work of translation from near-native to native-English. Like riding on cobblestones; you get there, but not so smoothly or easily.

***Hazel Smith's "translations." "My heritage, though you may not realize it, is tangalisingly mixed. I have a few loose ends in Lithuania. But I've never travelled there, and couldn't find my way around if I did" (27). As Bourriaud puts it, "In a human space now completely surveyed and saturated, all geography becomes psychogeography" (120), or an erotics thereof. Paul Naylor's Jammed Transmission, an effort by an American poet to communicate across time and space with a Japanese Zen Buddhist text, contains in its very title, an admission that such transmissions / translations are never direct.

***Craig Santos Perez's "hesitations." In from unincorporated territory, translates Chamorro words, but often only a page or two after they appear in the text. The reader, who reads about an island in the ocean, must circulate back and forth in waves to read the book well. There is no linear progress in this book, which is made of intersecting sections and in which languages come into contact, but are not immediately comprehended.

These are linguistic translations, which aid and stand-in for larger translations of culture. (I have not addressed the "translations" that occur when artists add to Tinfish books, creating a first response to their content.) These are much harder to accomplish by publishing a small number of books; the weight of representation is heavier on our three books from Samoa (all of them by writers who have spent much of their lives in the United States) than it is on our California books. Translation is not a given, and this is one problem Tinfish faces. To what extent do our American readers "get" the books we publish from elsewhere. Do what extent do _I_ get them? Conversely, what can be gained through this not-getting, if it is respectful and alert to possibility, rather than to closing down. To movement and multiplicity, in other words, not to sitting still? Open questions all! That these books are all engaged in a similar wandering (whether geographical, linguistic, spiritual, sexual) only makes the books and their reception more complex.

***There is also a more comic wandering, typified by Gizelle Gajelonia's parodic translations of American poems by Stevens, Bishop, Crane, Ashbery and others, onto O`ahu's geography and into its Pidgin idiom. This inter-textual wandering posits O`ahu as the hub, and American poetry as the periphery. Wallace Stevens flies into HON and is transformed into a local poet. No more a 747-poet, intruding on another space and happily flying away to write about it with authority, Stevens is kidnapped, his language taken, translated, and he is then welcome into the local. Appropriations reversed, fresh networks created--not out of newness, but the circulation of the old according to new weather patterns.

On islands:

Finally, for now. Toward the end of the book, Bourriaud posits an island model for thinking, post-post-modernism and post-post-colonialism: "a new configuration of thought that no longer proceeds by building great totalizing theoretical systems but by constructing archipelagoes. A voluntary grouping of islands networked together to create an autonomous entity, the archipelago is the dominant figure of contemporary culture" 185). Not all islands are so voluntarily networked, of course, as evidenced in the uses to which Guam, the Philippines, and Hawai`i have been put. But Bourriaud, ever the optimist, would use the island map as evidence of a "struggle for diversity," rather than a shutting down, colonial-style. These are islands as openings, not islands as bastions, fortifications for someone else's armies. "The alter-modern is to culture what altermondialisation is to geopolitics, an archipelago of local insurrections against the official representations of the world" (185-86).

If we can take this model as our own, as prospect if not as fact, as hope if not as clear possibility, then Tinfish is one of its most literal enactments, wandering as it does in a Pacific archipelago characterized by local resistances to globalization, but also by poets' efforts to circulate, walk, migrate, take TheBus ceaselessly, make networks between books, between languages, between cultures.


Barbara Jane Reyes has posted a third installment of statements by small press editors on Harriet's blog. Links to the other two can be found at the end of my previous post.


Ruth said...

Franz Fanon can be a blast to read. Nowadays, infrequently, I can laugh at his dour tone, where before, when I first came across his stuff, I simply fell into the deep doldrums. What is post-post really when post- is not the end of something, like colonialism but its re-emergence under new guises? And new masters can get constructed whether on an island or a continent. I need to continue reading my copy of B's book, but I am sceptical of metaphor acting like political theory.

Catherine said...

Do you think the walk poems are the influence of the NYS or of the Beats, or the Lake poets, or just ... pedestrian?

Susan M. Schultz said...

Well, walk poems do have a history, but I'd say Kaia's is different, as it's engaged in history. Hazel wrote the book on Frank O'Hara, so I suspect some NYS influence there, as well as a riff off her own _The Writing Experiment_ book exercises, and Reyes's walks engage with race issues in ways that the Lake poets (for a few!) do not!

chang said...

wow! thanks for another great blog post!
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zsdrgythrt said...

Hi Susan: I am supposed to be taking my daughter to her swimming lesson at the exact moment of your appearance at Collected Works, but I shall try to evade my duty and come along. Welcome to Melbourne!
Ah, la derive......Don't forget the clown prince of psychogeograhic walking, M.Debord


Peter Kenneally