OEDIPAL LOOP DE LOOP PLUS GOOP: On Jon Rutzmoser's shhhh! it's poetry
In which I talk about reading shhhh! it's poetry & Jon Rutzmoser talks about making shhhh! it's poetry
Divya: Reading shhhh! it's poetry
1990, Trichy, India. I watch Saturday Night Fever in a small living room. I watch Tony Manero brush his beautiful bush with a black flatback brush and blow it into the poufy arch de triomphe with his grey-blue plastic SuperPro hair drier. Hairy forearms up and down. Cut to foggy disco floor. Cut to glossy Bruce Lee. Cut to hairbrush through bush. This happened to John Travolta in 1977.
2004, Philadelphia, U.S.A. I watch Marina Abramović on YouTube in a cream bedroom. I watch her Art Must Be Beautiful, Artist Must Be Beautiful in which Marina Abramović rages with and against her hair for 50 minutes using a curved back brush and a faux tortoise-shell comb with broken and missing teeth. Hairless forearms up and down. Cut to Marina. Cut to more Marina. This happened to Marina Abramović in 1975.
Two pairs of arms attached to bodies moving along the thin line between self-care and self-harm; two sets of bristles attached to two pairs of arms caressing/eroding/ bleeding the scalp. I moved in the circuit of desire between brush-hair-audience generating the domestic static: the pure products of attraction and repulsion.
Why was Marina not Tony? Why was Tony not Marina? Why could I not reconcile their respective pleasures?
And worse: Why was Marina’s critique of the objectified body > than Tony’s celebration of the objectified body? This was a huge hole in my understanding of visual pleasure; this was a theoretical “Unngg” in my intellectual frisking of feminist representation and embodiment at that time.
I was supposed to prefer one. I did not. I felt guilty about this. And they both seemed to me lacking in any interest in themselves. They were entirely devoted to the gaze, welcoming it and fussing over it. Their narcissism seemed so awkward and incomplete—so sentimental.
2014, Buffalo, U.S.A. I watch a video-work called “To SAMO with Love” on YouTube. The familiar guilt of my failed theoretical feminism returns like a retroactive throat-hurl—that feeling of cotton candy and funnel cake making its way back up for seconds. A headless torso (still connected to a head outside the frame, relaaaax) balloons and deflates like a cephalopod ejaculating ink near the cloudy ocean floor. But instead of the inky black jet, a creamy, semen-like chandelier of spit slowly drips down this torso—past the dark gaping maroon eyes of the nipples, past the indent where a scalpel could open the sternum, past the X where the abdomen folds in to 1,2,3,4,5,6 packs, and into the crease at the belly button and into the pit of the belly button. Here the sputum rests and waits. This is happening to Jon Rutzmoser in 2011.
The artist’s body has just fed its bellybutton (its first mouth) with its maw (its second mouth). Where mama had fed this body, baba will now feed.
This is Jon Rutzmoser.
Jon Rutzmoser is cleaning himself. He is writing on his own skin with his spit. He is trying to access his intestines through his bellybutton with a failed spit baton. Gutsy.
“To SAMO with Love” is as hilarious as that one time Homer Simpson drew his nipples as eyes and tried to feed his fat fold some pizza.
But, it is also as sad, silent, and terrifying as Anna Mendieta’s Glass on Body Imprints. I’m seeing Jon’s torso not make it through the looking glass while its dead eye-nipple composites gaze back at me—look me in the eye.
What is going on. Watching this head-less torso pleasure itself with a glorified spit-bubble breaking in mid-air like some horribly ironic slo-mo Fourth-of-July firework bursting over a slum in Dharavi is rather too much to handle.
Should I love this so immensely? What about Marina? What about Tony? Why do I prefer this act of self-care over the other two?
Then it hits me:
The man is drooling over himself.
The man is making a spitting image of himself.
Unlike Tony and Marina, Jon’s performance of self-care and self-love is interested in auto-affective pleasure over and above the critique of narcissism. Or, more precisely, it is narcissism without sentience; a narcissism that cannot totally be aware or itself or assume a critical vantage point; a narcissism that cannot be sentimental.
Like in his video work, the protagonist-persona in Jon’s new book shhh! it’s poetry keeps trying to spit into its own belly; keeps trying to self-cannibalize into an auto-affective ecosystem made entirely of semantic daisy-chains. Daisy-chains in hard network topology refers to a series of devices wired together in a sequence or a ring so computers can speak and think together. Daisy-chains, IRL, refers to a circle of participants in the throes of a choreographed cunnilingus. Jon has brought these two valences of the self-perpetuating daisy-chain together for me through the structure of the book in which people, figures, and language loop in an endless circuit of resemblance and mutual pleasuring. Jon’s book seems to finally understand what the poet is: a man trying to eat himself out.
Women named Phyllis or Susan, obscure objects of desire, continually swap places with other women names Phyllis or Susan in a Loop De Loop of Oedipal tangles. I revel in the embarrassment of Freudian riches. Every case study is as conclusive and fatal as the first: you are in love with your mother or you are a motherfucker. Loop De loop. Words resembling phallic triggers return like banana-peels in all the expected places over which semantic slippage gives way to awkward chuckles and grunts. Loop De loop.
I revel in the absolute emptiness of these linguistic landscapes. The words exhaust themselves through iteration after iteration till all its permutations have been spent. The poems rub the pun until all there’s left is the regret of breathless phonemes trying to reach for the glass of water. Like the list-form, repetitive, and permutative poems of bpNichol (“The Complete Works”), Steve McCaffery (“The”), Vanessa Place (Like), Caroline Bergvall (“Ambient Fish”) , and others, these poems are intravenous translations of themselves—circles of semantic auto-affection that roll in the mouth like a tongue continuously knotting and unknotting itself.
Remember the girl who told everyone she could tie a cherry stem into a bow? It was Jon Rutzmoser. In the Timaeus, Plato describes the Grecian Ouroboros—a creature that could well be the spirit animal of Jon’s shhh! it’s poetry.
The living being had no need of eyes because there was nothing outside of him to be seen; nor of ears because there was nothing to be heard; and there was no surrounding atmosphere to be breathed; nor would there have been any use of organs by the help of which he might receive his food or get rid of what he had already digested, since there was nothing which went from him or came into him: for there was nothing beside him.
In shhh! it’s poetry, there seems to be nothing but Jon. Jon who is a spitting image of himself; Jon who is a cherry stem bow tied with his own tongue; Jon who is the Ouroboros that places social inhibition on exhibit.
Jon’s poems function as exhibits quite explicitly, enforcing a kind of autobiographical reduction of every auto-affective loop—I keep thinking “this is probably real,” "this is probably what happened,” “this is likely Jon’s real life,” "this is probably what Jon is like." And, let me remind you, I am professionally trained to leap over these biographic mines like a ninja. But I keep falling into Mine-Mines™: explosive confessions of auto-affection. Enforced autobiographical reading is exhausting because just as in exhaustive art-acts, like Vito Acconci’s Conversions and Seed Bed, the body on exhibit is made significant through what we imagine will be the failure and collapse of the body. But, the body will fail to transform; it will fail to completely die out. It will fail to eat itself and shit itself out. Similarly, the bodies of shhh! it’s poetry seem to both build themselves through self-referential indexing and commentary and collapse themselves through these very methods. The body, as Jon has written it here, in other words, is a tautology: the saying of the same thing twice in different words. Or, in the words of Dick Higgins’s manifesto: “my hair is my hair and corresponds to nothing.” This poetry tries to expend this warm and corpulent tautology again and again until the hands are chafed and you’ve run of Kleenex.
Jon: Making shhhh! it's poetry
My process for writing while writing this book often began with basic questions. Being. Identity. Aesthetics. Ethics. Etc. My process for writing while writing this book often began with listening. Getting down to business, as they say. School. Time. Money. Etc. Etc. And as such, my process for writing while writing this book often began with totally fabricated but very real desires. E-valuation. Progress. History. Etc. And as such my process for writing while writing this book often began with my family. Origins. Representation. Etc. Etc. And as such, my process for writing while writing this book often began with using myself. Confession. Exploitation. The lyric I as access. Etc. My process for writing while writing this book often began with relationality. Spatially. Temporally. Conceptually. Etc. Etc. Etc.
My process for writing while writing this book often began with auto mode. Autobiography. Self-exploitation-as-ethical- practice. Explicit. Nature. Exposure. Etc. Etc. Etc. My process for writing while writing this book often began with French theory kisses. Feminisms. Fuck-ups. Etc. Etc. My process for writing while writing this book often began with a frantic workload. Romanticism. As such, my process for writing while writing this book often began with demands in the closet. As seen on TV. Etc. My process for writing while writing this book often began with Los Angeles. The 2 to the 5 etc. etc. My process for writing while writing this book often began with fast food joints. Naked swimming. Moonshine in the ceiling. Etc. My process for writing while writing this book began in the desert. And as such, my process for writing while writing this book often began with a document of sorts. Media. Art. Text. Etc. My process for writing while writing this book often began with notions of Per(f/n)ormativity.
And as such, my process for writing while writing this book often began with form. Triangulation mostly. And globulization. Language. Language. Language. And as such, my process for writing while writing this book was often idealistic. Interdisciplinary. Project ion. The image. The love poem. And a stitch. My process for writing while writing this book was often pragmatic. Projection. The image. Post!production. An ass itch. My process for writing while writing this book often began with tissue. Shit snot not poetry. Slippage. An orgasm. Running. Morning. Shit. Tearing up. Rip-age. Repetition. Etc. Etc. Etc. My process for writing while writing this book often began with sound. Abstract. Affect. Abject. Reference. Others. A hunch. Etc. Etc. Etc. As such, my process for writing while writing this book often began with dissolving and constituting myself into and through these processes. Dissolving and constituting these processes into and through other processes. Dissolving and constituting these other processes back into and through the self. Etc. Etc. Etc. And as such, my process for writing while writing this book began with a pun. Do shit. A cleansing of sorts. Editing. Revising. Condensation. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Jon Rutzmoser is a writer, artist, and educator living in Buffalo, NY, where he also co-edits Bon Aire Projects. He is the author of shhhh! it’s poetry (Insert Blanc Press, 2014) and co-author, with Amanda Montei, of DINNER POEMS (Bon Aire Projects, 2013). Other recent work has appeared in P-Queue, [Out of Nothing], and Concord Press #1.
Divya Victor is the author of Kith (Fence, 2017); Natural Subjects (Trembling Pillow Press, 2015), winner of the Bob Kaufman Award; Things To Do With Your Mouth (Les Figues, 2014); Partial Derivative of the Unnameable (Troll Thread, 2005); and Goodbye John! On John Baldessari (2012); and the chapbooks UNSUB (2014),...