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Felix Bernstein’s Felt Essay on Vanessa Place’s ‘Zombie Poetry’ Manifesto
Felix Bernstein has penned an original for HTMLGIANT, writing on Vanessa Place, Slavoj Žižek, Trisha Low, “and more.” To the point, Bernstein responds to “Zombie Poetry,” an essay by Place published last week on Jacket2 (“There is no ‘I’ in team. But there is a ‘me,’ bitches”). Bernstein: “And so it is only human (in the ‘living breathing’ sense) that now, in ‘Zombie Poetry,’ when the prospect of Place herself losing relevance enters the scene, that she can finally ask us to be concerned about the personal, the tragic, and the autobiographical, at the expense of the comic and universal. Now, she begs, we ought to look at her particular case, her particular deadpan style, her ‘I’m melting’ bathos, and feel for her! That is, we ought to feel for the woman who is unfeeling.” More from his piece:
…[S]uch ‘negativity,’ as Zizek or Place or Gaga or Warhol offers, is only as ‘negative’ as it is completely intelligible to art audiences, and it will be forever intelligible because it has no ambivalence about using the signifier, ruthlessly, to prove its point (which is, after all, nothing more than to show that the empty signifier trumps what is conservatively viewed to be an authentic display of desire). But maybe the simplest example to look to, for now, is Twilight, where young Bella, ambivalent about how to register affect, ends up choosing the learned, urbane, death drive of the vampires over and against the dumb, rural, pleasure principle of the werewolves. Which one would you pick? It must be hard being a young post-feminist!
Perhaps, Bella might have been better off choosing what young poet Trisha Low calls ‘post-conceptual narcissism,’ eschewing the two reductive options for speech provided by feminist theory: speech in an ‘authentic elsewhere’ of the primitive, wild (the psychobabble of the pre-linguistic, the ‘fullness’ of the unsplit subject) and speech with a deadpan, ironic, performative mastery of the letters, styles, and artifices of the high symbolic order (a writing that is always under erasure). Low opts instead for a middle ground, which in Lacanian terms would be nothing other than the Imaginary, that which is between the Real and the Symbolic, in which the messy ‘mirror stage’ of ego fabrication, imitation, differentiation, and fantasy takes place. Lacan rightfully aside, what Low calls this, among other things, is the “not-not me,” a regurgitated, messy, mixture of cultural fantasies.
To make art from a place where one is vulnerable to influence, where one does not quite have ironic mastery, that stage that can so easily be dismissed as complicit or even complacent with ‘ideological fantasies’ is an inherently less fashionable ‘gesture,’ and as a ‘gesture’ it is less radical by orthodox Marxist standards. It is not an “act,” such as the kind Badiou and Zizek praise, with all its arrogance, near impossibility, and extreme violence. It is rather playfulness, the kind that gives Derrida’s ‘play of signifiers’ a good name. That is to say, it has not become a homogenous institutionally controlled ‘play’ but nor is it a ‘free play,’ that claims full-out anarchy. It is rather dialectically moving between constraint and freedom. This is a kind of playing that has not been recently valorized, for better or worse. The easy-signification of banner-happy identity politics has for the most part seeped in to all subcultural or countercultural aesthetics, case in point, being the necessity or intelligible signification (typically achieved using the tools of appropriation, irony, and assimilation) in queer culture, such as can be found in the academy around Lady Gaga (from her monster fans on twitter to the ones who rule queer theory departments). Low proposes a type of play where, unlike in Lacan, the “dead letter” (the unrequited fantasy) is not delivered to the feeding, vampric analyst-critic-master. Which does not mean that the subject is barred from communication but only that communication never fully congeals into institutional positivity and presence. . . .
Find the entire essay at HTMLGIANT.