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On Allyssa Wolf's Vaudeville or My Altamont Blues, II


the world
to tempt the thief
inside a glass ball.
To tell the truth.
(That Thanksgiving I made a soup from instant potatoes.
I think I had. Instant heaven. Rooms grave and grainy.
I tried hard. Not to bump into any of her. Leftover ghosts.
(Wolf, “M, The Dancer” 38)

Something of the that Thanksgiving. A re-turning into. Something is not at home in the place of telling. In the tempting. In or out of the glass ball. Of someone who is/is not there. Another loneliness. Inevitability of running into her it seems. Leftovers ghosting not only the holiday, but also the modern life. The atomization of beings in the world pasting together instantaneous meals. Something here is not at home and uncanny. “Rooms grave and grainy.” The Leftover ghosts. I left to avoid the bump.

I drove to Chicago with “my” cat Oscar howling in the backseat. Across Montana, Dakotas...The course I put together at UIC was entitled “Writing the Apocalypse.” We read from Vaudeville as well as Mike Davis’s catastrophist Dead Cities (see especially his essays “Ecocide in Marlboro Country,” “Preface,” and “White People are Only a Bad Dream”). Naively, I thought I knew what was going on. “Sure, more gritty than Portland, but hey I’ve been there lots of times.” Everything seemed “together.” Little did I know. Should have listened to Socrates. That said, the entirety of the move was as if scripted in my favor. An apartment and job in four days. Two very dear friends in Rian Murphy and Peter O’Leary. And moreover, Simone Muench, whose poetic gifts are infinite, natal, full of possibility even in the darknesses. She taught me in many ways at a tough spot how to dance. And every bit as much with pretty much everyone I met. And still do. It isn’t the city. It’s me. And Wolf finds that chasm between history, region, politics, and culture. My dance was frenetic, the pace is off the charts at times. Throughout these years (prior to Airless Spaces), I carried Vaudeville with me not as a shield, but rather as an uncovering, a raw. People started to split apart or die. And I wasn’t new anywhere.

Mocking blood
It was
A terrible time
Every soul had left
I stayed behind
In the ruins of a failed revolution
The city took on a personality
Which comforts me

(spidery walk atop young sticks
gut string legs
(Wolf, “Fourth Doll” 14)

“1894 J. Swinton Striking for Life 357 Comrades of Chicago!.. In these times there are..prophecies of approaching apocalypse... It will surely come.” ("apocalypse, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 23 April 2015.)

yes. Comrades. And I’ve seen it elsewhere, but it is in this strange slaughterhouse capital where in 1894 Swinton predicted an apocalypse in a quasi-marxist way (as Marxism is perpetually always-already at some point a millenarian discourse, prophetic). All this being said, what does “apocalypse” even mean? My dad noted to me as I had been developing an increasing interest in the apocalypse throughout the “anxiety” of the 1890s that apocalypse means to unveil, remove, uncover, reveal. To...Tear off the Veil! (which looks extraordinarily Orientalist in writing it down here, but was in conversation and sounded and seemed different....further research is needed). Tearing of the veil. Uncovering. revealing interiors that have been hidden. These are not merely biblical references, but also revelations and disclosures of any interior, of one’s life. 1621 R. Burton Anat. Melancholy iii. iv. i. iii. 756 “Interpret Apocalypses, & those hidden misteries to priuate persons” (ibid).

Thus, worldly (and beyond) revelations and unveilings, be they poetic, political realm, “the social,” as well as the interiorities are reinforced by the invention and perpetuation of this terminology. Or more aptly, “The events described in the revelations of St. John; the Second Coming of Christ and ultimate destruction of the world” (ibid.). The religious inheritance of this tradition within American culture is undeniable. I’m not contending here that Wolf’s poetry is maximalist (as Bruce Lincoln depicts in his excellent book Holy Terrors) or fundamentalist. Still, it’s in the water. It’s in the language, land, world, truth-claims, criminal system (which is ultimately hell-bent on a real Ultimate “Justice” being served)....It is here.

The thief is entrapped, a glass ball. Temptations and truth-tellings surround us all. Tell the truth. Be honest. Tempt the thief to apocalypse. Thief on trial. Stealing, tell the truth. Thieving. Surrender. Sin and Surrender. This may seem far out, but then again as we later learn of Uncle Scott, who resides “in a grim place, Ohio” (Wolf 78).

Uncle Scott kept raccoons
Beside the house with his guns
And the lawn jockeys
That Honey painted yellow in the Nineties
When Mee-Maw began to poison the birds
Just because she liked to

It does not come down to Ohio, but the function of region and dialect, interior life/s and more in the poem. It expounds upon being in a place, a trapping. The poison of such places. The disclosures, the tearing off the veils of illusion. The crimes. Tell the truth. It will set you free.

Don’t be afraid
Though one ought not to talk
about how Uncle Scott
The farm
“For love”
So they say (78)

We are dealing with the monstrous here as the show winds down. The “Animal Show” (a historically accurate reference to how Vaudeville shows often ended) full of mutations, “Octupus-Bird,” “Racoon-Dog,” “Unicorn-Dog,” “Butterfly-Rabbit” (75-82). Generativity, producing, creating, these makings of words and deeds to thieve from Arendt—they are fully capable of producing horrors if one seeks to create only within the loneliness of those “grave and grainy” rooms of modernity or postmodernity or what have you. Unless we make in concert with one another, without the in-between, world become monster. A) The Holocaust never ended and B) It was/is born of a continual alienation. And it is these truths that Allyssa Wolf’s beckons the reader to perhaps examine. It is night everywhere... A sort of “night of the world” as Hegel wrote:

The human being is this night, this empty nothing, that contains everything in its simplicity - an unending wealth of many representations, images, of which none belongs to him – or which are not present. This night, the interior of nature that exists here – pure self – in phantasmagorical representations, is night all around it, in which here shoots a bloody head - there another white ghastly apparition, suddenly here before it, and just so disappears. One catches sight of this night when one looks human beings in the eye – into a night that becomes
(Hegel, Jenaer Realphilosophie, trans. Donald Philip Verene 7-8 qtd. in Slavoj Zizek’s The Ticklish Subject: the absent centre of political ontology 29-30)

There. Sublime terror of being that horror and the making of “the Horror...the Horror” (Conrad) with all its imperialist and Orientalist uses and abuses. The audience. The viewer. Look into the eye. “The fucking mind” is not in itself. Does not own itself. Filled with and surrounded by that night and with it a violence of imagination. am doing so right now. and looking back or up at you doing the same as you look down at “me”—“Whoever you are.” Whitman that much applauded author of “democratic impulse” is a pedagogical rapist. To resist, refuse, remake, re-connect with the world. Yet, is it not a world “out of joint”? Does this world not mercilessly put people of color, women, the impoverished (and so many, many more) on trial, guilty of the crime of being named as such. Thief. That’s that. Tell the truth....how? Perhaps some of us have the privilege of retiring to our privatized securities of the home as ever the fortress of liberty and “unwinding”? Yet, how? You will hear the voices. No thing can shut them down. The home itself is the space where the uncanny (Unheimlich) unfolds (Slavoj Zizek The Ticklish Subject: the absent centre of political ontology).

Originally Published: April 27th, 2015

The son of an Episcopalian minister, Philip Jenks was born in North Carolina and grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia. He earned a BA from Reed College, an MA in creative writing from Boston University, and a PhD in political science from the University of Kentucky. His books of poetry include On...