Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Show Part 3: Politics

(This is a series of posts reflecting on the place of "the show" in contemporary society and culture.)

We can ask whether or not a tree falls in a forest when there is nobody there to hear it. But there is now a more relevant question: Does anything happen, in a meaningful way, if it is not filmed or photographed? Digitalized "film" is slowly being accorded more reality than that which is filmed. Something not filmed is becoming irrelevant and quaint. More and more, we live in the show, as spectators and participants.

As the show has permeated more and more of contemporary society, political change has become easier. As people become less and less moored to religious, family, and civic institutions their ideas, political and otherwise, become more malleable. In the area of civil rights, this is a good thing.

Perhaps the greatest example of the use of the show to create political change is the nonviolent civil disobedience of the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. expertly saw to it that the violent excesses of Southern authorities would be televised to the whole nation—and the world. Outrage and embarrassment helped to end legalized segregation. Part of King's genius was to see how televised news could be used to create social change. The Civil Rights bill was passed only 99 years after the end of the Civil War. Things moved quickly.

The gay rights movement happened even more quickly. Again, the show was a major factor. Celebrities either coming out or coming out for gay rights made a major difference. The TV show "Ellen" had an important impact. It is slowly becoming unacceptable to utter homophobic comments in polite company. While the show was probably not as big a factor as it was in the Civil Rights movement (perhaps friends, family, and colleagues coming out was more important), the very context of the show, which loosens traditional biases and assumptions, makes such quick change possible.

The show is a tool. It can be used for positive social change. And it can be used for other, less positive, things as well.

Social issues seem to be the place where the show makes the biggest impact. As far as economic issues go, it makes barely a ripple. Perhaps this is because the show, to a large degree, creates the economy. Demand results from the show: advertising, celebrity, and so on. There is very little latent demand left in the economy. Even food has become part of the show, as advertisers and health advocates fight it out over creating or mitigating the demand for junk food.

In other words, the show does not critique that which it creates in the first place. The critique of the economy, while it has elements of the show in it, takes place on the fringes—in scholarly circles, in radical periodicals, among political groups. When these groups are taken up into the show—such as the Seattle World Trade Organization protests in 1999—their objections are not even clear to the general population. The WTO protesters appeared to be a bunch of hooligans lacking ideology. The same cannot be said for the Civil Rights or Gay Rights protesters. The show can make their issues clear; the show can engage social issues.

The show cannot engage economic issues well because it is so bound up with the economy that critique necessitates standing at the edge, outside of the bright lights. But you cannot both be in the show and stand at its edge. In other words, a critique of the economy necessitates a critique of the show. However, such a critique can only take place from a position outside or at the edge of the show. The kicker is that being outside the show is, to a large extent, to be irrelevant.

The inability to critique the economy results from no intent on the part of the show. Indeed, the show has no intent whatsoever. It just devours. If it could, it would colonize the critique of the economy just as it colonizes so much else. But it can't. This means that mounting any sort of political protest against the economy in the time of the show is quite difficult.

Before the show, political speeches and debate were entertainment. People turned out at the courthouse steps to hear Lincoln debate Douglass. In the 19th century, listening to hours long speeches was sometimes Saturday's pastime. But these did not take place in the context of the show. They were leisure time activities, more or less segregated from the rest of the economy and life. Today, the show of politics invades all aspects of life. Political commercials are ubiquitous. Grandstanding has become shrill. The distinction between politicking and governing has ceased to exist. The passing of laws is becoming a rhetorical act in the political race. While this has always been true to an extent, it is more true now. The TV cameras are always on. The politicians are always playing. There is no place to hide where the work of governing can take place.

In the past, there was no need to hide. Less of life was filmed. Playing for the camera happened only in specific places.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Show Part Two

by Jefferson Hansen

(This is a series of posts reflecting on the place of "the show" in contemporary society and culture.)

We can ask whether or not a tree falls in a forest when there is nobody there to hear it. But there is now a more relevant question: Does anything happen, in a meaningful way, if it is not filmed or photographed? Digitalized "film" is slowly being accorded more reality than that which is filmed. Something not filmed is becoming irrelevant and quaint. More and more, we live in the show, as spectators and participants.

The show is not everywhere. But it permeates everywhere and everything, with the possible exception of something like Amish culture.

Think of Christian hardcore punk rock.

Sometimes we model our behavior on the show: we may behave in a reproduction of the publicized traits of our favorite celebrities and sports heroes. This is highly contextualized. We can most behave like the show when we are relaxed and in our down time, with friends. This is when we can show our "true" self. To behave this way at work would, most likely, invite ridicule if not worse.

Our true selves have been borrowed from the show. Our identities, at their most intimate, hinge on what parts of the show we attend to.

Demasking is one of its favorite moves: to show pictures or films that raise questions about someone's created identity. Embarrassment is sometimes the essence of a show.

There is almost no silence anymore. Music, much of it computer-generated, is everywhere, and is sometimes layered. For instance, a gym may have a soundtrack playing. Many of those working out may have earbuds in. They may be tuned to a talk show, to music radio, to downloaded music tracks.

The music in your earbuds is not necessarily more pressing than the needs of the person next to you. If he or she keeled over in pain or tapped you on the shoulder to get your attention, you would prioritize. Most likely, however, this is only an intermission from the show. You would replace your earbuds and get back to exercising as soon as possible.

Face-to-face contact is merely the raw material of the show. 

"The show" is the underlying assumptions of this culture. "A show" is a particular manifestation. Sometimes there is an audience of one: imagine someone creating personalized playlists and listening to them on earbuds.

There is a difference between modeling yourself after a hero and reproducing part of a show as an assertion of identity. The former implies some thought and analysis. The latter is visceral.

The show cannot take up everything. But, more and more, it is what we attend to. And then shows are made of the quaint aspects of life seemingly outside of the show. The show goes even there. It colonizes experience.

Right now, in 2014, there is a fetish for the quaint, the small time, the singular. This may have begun as a frustration with the standardization of the show in its earlier manifestations. (Think of representations of Levittown.) However, now it is one of the favorite topics of the show. You can only make a few shows on the Model T. You can make myriad shows about custom-made cars.

The show, now, thrives on multiplicity.

While there were antecedents in print culture, the show began in a noticeable way with the advent of radio.

The show and electricity go hand in hand.

Most babies probably see or hear a tv show before meeting grandpa, grandma, aunts or uncles.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Show Part One

by Jefferson Hansen

(This is a series of posts reflecting on the place of "the show" in contemporary society and culture.)

We can ask whether or not a tree falls in a forest when there is nobody there to hear it. But there is now a more relevant question: Does anything happen, in a meaningful way, if it is not filmed or photographed? Digitalized "film" is slowly being accorded more reality than that which is filmed. Something not filmed is becoming irrelevant and quaint. More and more, we live in the show, as spectators and participants.

It has been said that entertainment—the show—reflects and reproduces the economic and social order. In other words, the means of production reproduce themselves during leisure time.

Today, it would seem that the opposite is often the case: the show creates the economy.

The most obvious example is TV commercials. Actors create small dramas, arising from a script that attempts to get people to buy things. The show creates consumer desire, a central aspect of the economy.

Take pharmaceutical advertisements. They usually begin by presenting the image of a suffering person who cannot engage in life’s most fulfilling activities. The drug is introduced and, presto, the person now can live life to the fullest. This is signified by something like a dance or a walk on the beach. The narrative presents the drug as the portal to paradise.

That nobody lives in paradise is only hinted at by the hurriedly uttered list of potential side effects.

The goal of this show is to remind us of our miseries and to make us feel bad. Then it offers the way out of the misery. This is often the goal of advertising: to make us feel bad so that we buy a product to feel better.

Purchasing things is the way to paradise. This claim is, of course, absurd. But if it is repeated time and again, day in and day out, from ubiquitous electronic devices, can anyone resist?

We are plugged into the show. And we have all become its actors.

The lines between entertainment, information, and advertising have become blurred. News correspondents, who used to report on politics and important events, have become actors in the show, wearing sparkling costumes to report on glitzy happenings or putting a cheese hat on their head, during a morning news show, to advertise the Packer game appearing on that network that evening. “Hard” news no longer has its cache. We have come to accept that the show is the real story, and our news people must engage. To not engage in the show is to be not only irrelevant, but a veritable nonentity.

More and more, we become the show. An activity, for some, does not seem complete until photos and movies from it are posted on social media and commented on. How often do we engage in an activity simply because it will be filmed? Do we sometimes film that which exists only for the film in the first place? The medium is message, but also a ground of reality.

(This series will continue.)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Three Visual Poems by Tom Cassidy

and 23 professonal




Tom Cassidy will be the featured artist in issue 6. is the web journal that this blog accompanies.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Oolong Tea

by Ted King

Sleeveless and Braless,
the underside of her
left breast revealed the site
of the incision.

Her forever reminder of
that particular war.

With two soft fingers
I touched the scar.
The scar which, to me,
only added to her beauty.

She did not move,
save to close her eyes.

Her hand curled into a fist
as she inhaled a memory
and then relaxed as she
exhaled forgiveness.

Homage paid,
I withdrew my touch.

She opened her eyes.
Smiling, she said
“I think I'll make a cup
of Oolong Tea.
Would you like some?”


Ted King is a widely published Jazz Poet and Performer.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Mary Kasimor's THE LANDFILL DANCERS (BlazeVox)

by Jefferson Hansen

Mary Kasimor’s difficult, but rewarding, poems often create buried narratives, where a story is hinted at but never fully fleshed out. The poems track the perchings and turns of attention on top of these narratives, in forms that emphasize visual process. She uses a variety of poetic techniques—from in-line spacing, to surprising line breaks, to idiosyncratic capitalization—to goad words and phrases into a meaning only poetry could grant them. What’s more, a spirit of experimentalism leaps off the page. Kasimor plays with and in language, moving it into unique and specific witticisms and quiet surprises, all with an eye to visual enactment.
            In the poem “found on page 78” Kasimor explicitly mentions story:
                      found on          page 78
          the story has
                               a toothache when
          they looked           at the corners
          finding bruises
                        escapes a name          wandering
          skeleton covered           with skin 
The story is “found” on a seemingly random page in a magazine or book, probably in regard to a photograph. This is one of the few places where Kasimor addresses what she’s up to, and even here it is elliptical. For her, stories happen everywhere, are tied together with loose, but exact, strings in the complexity of experience. We don’t know precisely what is going on; bits of insight and guess are as far as we can go. These poems hover in the moments before provisional discernment, before a pattern can be identified or an insight had. They hover in ambiguity, but not ambivalence. They are sure footed, well crafted, even exacting. They have a sheen. So Kasimor writes of the unfinished, the raw, the prior to in, paradoxically, careful and fully formed language.
            In this she is similar to William Carlos Williams, with one crucial difference. In a poem such as “The Red Wheelbarrow” Williams gives us both an abstract statement—“so much depends/upon”—and a patterned series of images—wheelbarrow, rain water, chickens—that form and comment on a definite scene.  While the implications of the poem are vast, we have a clear sense of where we are, and we have directions for abstracting an interpretation of it.
            Kasimor inhabits a place in consciousness at a more primal level than that in “The Red Wheelbarrow.” (I am making a simple distinction, not a claim for quality or value.) She implies in “found on page 78” that so much happens on page 78 without explicitly telling us. She lets her attentions show what matters to her, but she rarely, if ever, offers something like a unifying abstraction. It is very difficult to tell what this or any of her poems is about. Indeed, they seem to be about their own visual enactment, the etching of moments into form on the page. It is as if stories and meanings inhabit all places, as if we are almost overwhelmed by what to make of it, that we can only make something of the small, the unfinished, the pregnant.  All we have are small moments, and the making of these particulars into an abstraction is, to a degree, a violence to their multiplicity and particularity. Moments, and the inherent drama within them, do not disclose their secrets, but only flints and specks, the sense that something profound and meaningful is at stake, but exactly what is beyond our ability to comprehend.
            The buried narratives occur because to Williams’ “so much depends/upon” Kasimor responds with, “Oh, yes, and so much also depends upon this and this and that and that, too.” Experience is replete with meaning, story, and drama, and Kasimor celebrates this complexity in poetry that moves and breathes into and with the layers and multiples and ambiguities of language:
            another       Pattern
            rules    the     other
            and               secret
            Escapes           The
            mind making itself
            up  But   the  mess
            lost a chicken (59)
Here, the relationship between the particular—“a chicken”—and the abstract—“Pattern,” “mind”—is not even hinted at. Kasimor places the abstract and concrete on the same level. They are both, after all, moments of attention, places where the mind perches for a time, before moving on.
            Lorine Niedecker and Barbara Guest are important poets for Kasimor. She says so in an afterword to her 2008 collection silk string arias (BlazeVox). Both these poets make a similar move on Williams as does Kasimor. All three poets write from a more primal place than does Williams in “The Red Wheelbarrow.” But Kasimor moves even further back than either Guest or Niedecker, into a terrain that risks falling into a mere list of words and particulars. (See “organic fairy tale” on page 66.) But I’m willing to go with her, up to the very point of incomprehensibility, because of the formal process she creates. Indeed, it is visual form that lends coherence to this poetry. In conversation, Kasimor emphasized to me that her poems are not scores for reading, but visual traces that mark the movement of a mind through a field of meanings.      
            Especially innovative is Kasimor’s use of spacing and capitalization. Some poems, such as the one quoted above, use intralineal spaces to separate words—and sometimes even letters. She believes that such spacing, on a visual level, creates alternate meanings, i.e. two words placed next to each other mean differently than the same two words placed apart. She does similar things with capitalization:
            SOIL’S blood in the wheat & corn
            Lying in uneven RowS
           dangles A reproduction painted LARGE (15)
The capital letters are not intended to encourage sonic emphasis. Rather, they mark the materiality of language, a place where the reader is forced to slow down, to ponder, to make something of what is made on the page. While Kasimor hardly adheres to the notion that every reader is free to make whatever she wants of her poetry, she clearly uses language’s materiality to invite openings and movement for readers that can be highly idiosyncratic. At her most extreme, the visual experiments approach the incomprehensible:
            a m ongsh ado w liv e sand cr acke dfe e tli ke
            mu don t hi stilt in gear tho f ho l ywa tersha (46)
In the three poems like this, in which Kasimor leaves the buried narratives behind in favor of sheer language play, Kasimor puts spaces between the letters of single words and often collapses the space between words. The quotation above, spaced conventionally, reads “among shadow lives and cracked feet like mud on this tilt in gear th of holy water shapes.” Kasimor makes us work for this, and once we get there she offers no easy conclusion. Indeed, these poems are about the experience of working through the reordering of language.
            And this gets at the heart of Kasimor’s process.  This is a poetry of profound and celebratory skepticism. If language can’t add up to legitimate insight and abstraction, what can it do? It can hint and veer, touch on and then glance away, build and then diminish. We live amid meanings, flecks and flints of insight, and possibility. And we can be witty. For instance, “found on page 78” celebrates our silliness, the way we are such small beings reaching for grandiosity, for identifying the “so much” that “depends.” And it sees the humor in how a photograph, most likely, on a nondescript page can send us reeling into wonder, a wonder that is not singular but multiple, full of starts and stops, perchings and flights, ending where it begins but so much richer for the process, the means of getting it down. Her faith, it seems to me, is not in the finding out, but in the unfurling care of process, of celebrating the wit and accidents that are the warp and woof of human life.

            The book ends “pigeons relax/when nothing is personal” (67). This is neither personification nor surrealism, though it contains a bit of both. Rather, it is constructivism, the making of something new amid the meanings we live among. It is akin to Wallace Stevens’ belief in the power of imagination. The difference is that Kasimor never directly addresses an entity as vast as imagination. I don’t think it’s in her to do so. She is too focused on the unacknowledged world to legislate it into anything other than its many, many dramas. It is appropriate that she end here, in a witty line that celebrates the way we make in language and in life. Our constructs are tentative, emerging, dissolving—and that is okay.


Kasimor will be reading from this book on Thursday, November 6 in Minneapolis. See this Facebook page for more information.

Terrence Folz Reading From "Bunt Burke"

  Terrence Folz's chapbook  Bunt Burke will appear from The Circulatory Press in August 2021. The above film features him reading some o...