The following highlights are not exhaustive.
Dodie Bellamy, entire body of work, and especially The Buddhist, When the Sick Rule the World, and Academonia
In October I spent a week in San Francisco shadowing Dodie Bellamy for a writing project related to the Wattis Institute’s year of Dodie (whence I took the above book cover collage). She took me to community acupuncture and gave me a walking tour of her neighborhood; we had tea in the café at the bottom of Twitter Towers; and other adventures I will commit to the page in coming months. To support this project I’ve been slowly and reverently revisiting Dodie’s work, including early work like Feminine Hijinx and Pink Steam which I read and loved years ago without solid context for New Narrative. Reread When the Sick Rule the World with Liza as part of our book club offshoot (see below), exhilarated as ever by Dodie’s audacity and mirth, her vulnerability and candor, her genius in stretching the essay as a form. While rereading The Buddhist at Borderlands Café, I got cruised by someone who wished to chat about Buddhism, not Dodie, of whom they had not heard: Hard pass. Back home in Brooklyn, I just finished Academonium, and Dodie’s essays on sex writing, genre, and the academy/job market have been reviving my lapsed faith in writing sex. For this project I’ve also taken a few trips to the Beinecke Library at Yale, to see what treasures I might find in Dodie’s and Kevin’s shared papers. They are plentiful. A glimpse:
(an original letter to KK from Dodie’s alter ego Mina Harker)
Renee Gladman +++ Book Club
When my good friend and former book club co-runner Liza Harrell-Edge left New York for the Pacific Northwest early in the year, I did not know if my heart would go on. It has, in large part because we have kept up a semi-rigorous monthly reading group, just us. (Our Brooklyn book club has gone on, too, though we miss her dearly.) Originally our agenda was strictly to read and discuss Renee Gladman’s Ravicka series, now that the fourth and final volume, Houses of Ravicka, is out. We’re halfway to achieving this goal, taking our time as we weave in and out of the constantly fluctuating imaginary city-state of Ravicka to wander wherever our enthusiasms take us—a detournement Gladman would probably support. Over the summer we worked our way through Samuel Delany’s immense, slow-burning (literally! the city of Bellona is on fire) Dhalgren, as Gladman has acknowledged its influence on the Ravicka series. We took a side trip through The Bostonians, Henry James’s archly comic novel of the women’s movement, which has nothing to do with Ravicka really, it just came up that we both wanted to read it—though I guess it’s about the city, too. This month we wrapped The Ravickians, the second in the series, comprising an imagined metatranslation of the Great Ravickian Novelist’s diaristic musings, an absurdist poetry reading, and a multi-character dialogue that maps in language one journey through the city of Ravicka. Excited for #3. May our literary kinship continue in years to come.
Ron Athey, Acéphalous Monster at Performance Space New York, November 2018
bb’s first Ron Athey performance and as intense as expected—though not in the ways I anticipated: no live mutilations or blood-letting; a surprising amount of language. Acéphale was Bataille’s seceret society, its symbol the headless man, and Acéphalous Monster is a one-person performance made up of five different segments tracing an arc from fascism (Athey channeling Hitler/Nazism in costume and hairpiece within the confines of a grid) to the guillotine block (as Louis XVI) to the headless man (Ron as minotaur; then as some kind of floofy dandelion). Supplementing the performance were text and video projections, including footage of a ritual involving an elaborate peacock butt plug and other spectacular SM implements and events.
My initial reactions were a bit nonplussed, like okay, enough with Bataille, why retread such stale source material—though I’d just been discussing temporal drag in my Revision & Reenactment class—also, bring on the live mutilations. Yet mutilation was occurring on the body of the texts: Athey was cutting up cut-ups (and cut-ups of cut-ups), deploying Gysin and Burroughs’ famous method. There was a lot of attention to fascism in this performance—Ron, in the post-performance Q&A, described the first grid segment (a re-imagining of Gysin’s Pistol Poem) as creating chaos within rigid order via random permutations—all to say I’m embarrassed at how long it took me to draw connections between Bataille’s fascist context and our own. Then I got it: yes.
Side note: Dodie Bellamy’s Cunt-Ups, which also works with the cut-up, has recently been reissued by Tender Buttons Press. Hooray!
Kathy Acker events, Performance Space New York, March/April 2018
PSNY also put on a series of events celebrating Kathy Acker this spring. I attended an excellent film program curated by Matias Viegener and the marathon reading of Blood and Guts in High School. As someone who has been strongly influenced by Acker’s work but never met or shared space with her, I was moved to take part in, if peripherally, this ecstatic, convivial celebration of her writing and life.
Trap Door Launch at the New Museum with editors Johanna Burton, Tourmaline, and Eric Stanley and contributors Ché Gossett, Juliana Huxtable, Miss Major, and Toshio Meronek (February)
This event celebrating the publication of Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility was—a scene. Standing room only (a big room!), a field of very hot trans and queer people; I confess my friends and I did some shameless trans celebrity spotting, even pointing, so rude. What a treat to be in the presence of Miss Major and these other luminaries, and to see this cross-generational exchange. The volume itself is gorgeous and full. My Brooklyn queer/trans/feminist book club dedicated two meetings to it; group favorite was probably Morgan Page’s essay on her podcast One for the Vaults, which treats trans history as hot gossip.