Tag: Fuck Amerika

stutter, memory


i dont mean to be cute: DICTEE by Theresa Cha is hard to talk about.

it’s a postmodern, feminist avant garde book. you might call it a novel; it has memoir and poetry in it as well. it draws on cinema and conceptualist art. there are photos without captions, and reproductions of handwriting.

it’s organized in nine sections. you get a table of the program: each section is named after a muse (and there’s a prologue with a proper invocation of the muses). but one of the muses, Elitere of Lyric Poetry, isnt real. Theresa made her up. pull apart the word: Eli Tere…Tere in Teresa. El i… Elle y Taire. She is silent.

there’s an epigraph from Sappho: “May I write words more naked than flesh, stronger than bone, more resilient than sinew, sensitive than nerve.” she made that up too.

the text comes in english, sometimes broken, as well as french and hangul and chinese characters. the experience will be different depending on your linguistic background. and like the Elitere thing above, Cha makes multi-lingual puns. “Speak fucking english!” Cha mounts some incredible wordplay, nearly all of it i unquestionably missed. it’s part of her response to the experience of an immigrant writer, an exiled writer, a politically orphaned writer. this is no rah rah rallying cry for the ~Asian American Community~. that’s all bullshit. no identity, no speech. it’s an incredible political charge brought to Beckett’s concerns with silence and the representation of an incommunicable experience.

it resonated with me on a deeply personal level. my mom’s side of the family are ethnic Chinese who fled from Vietnam as part of the mass exodus from Indo-China in the 80s. Who do they blame? the communists, naturally. they embraced the US and thoroughly assimilated. my mom badly wanted me to be that cliche Asian Achiever that i simply wasnt. it made me angry and i couldnt understand it, until i got into punk and anarchism (very white things, in the very white pacific northwest). my family is anti-black, and i cant say they’re just bargaining their way into the white dream — Asian people are anti-black in their distinct way. i often think to myself that i hate my chineseness more than my whiteness.

but it’s not like the finger should be pointed to Uncle Sam instead. this is where Cha sustains incredible complexity. towards the end she gives us a page with a single line:

Tenth, a circle within a circle, a series of concentric circles. (175)

it’s tenth of a list of what i think are schools of thought, including tai-chi. i have no clue. but the concentric circles image reflects on the US, among many other things. there are concentric circles to US imperialism/neocolonialism, which operate distinctly yet concurrently. Cha includes an appeal from Korean Americans in Hawaii to intervene in Korea due to Japanese imperialism, which the US neglects because of their own interests in the Philippines.

one of the strongest sections is Clio / Epic Poetry, which is centered on Cha’s mother (the chapter is flanked with two portraits taken of her, in youth and old age). she describes the process of assimilation:

They have not questioned. It is all the same to them. It follows directions. Not yet. They have not learned the route of instruction. To surpass overtake the hidden even beyond destination. Destination.

I have the documents. Documents, proof, evidence, photograph, signature. One day you raise the right hand and you are American. They give you an American Pass port. The United States of America. Somewhere someone has taken my identity and replaced it with their photograph. The other one. Their signature their seals. Their own image. And you learn the executive branch the legislative branch and the third. Justice. Judicial branch. It makes the difference. The rest is past.

You return and you are not one of them, they treat you with indifference. All the time you understand what they are saying. But the papers give you away. Every ten feet. They ask you identity. They comment upon your inability or ability to speak. Whether you are telling the truth or not about your nationality. (56)

identity replaced with photograph; the adopting country allows you to assert your existence on their terms, those of representation. “The rest is past.” this is the triumphalist delusion of linear history. trauma can be erased just by the beautiful experiment of US governance. it’s all in the past, get over it; your rise to citizenship cancels it out. really it’s America’s own crimes that are erased, throughout the century.

the other stand out section is “Erato / Love Poetry”. the text is laid out in a stereo-form, with each page acting as a column. you jump from one side to the other depending on where the text goes. on the left channel, a woman is watching a film (Dreyer’s Gertrude), on the other is an impressionist narrative of St. Teresa. we follow the unnamed woman, an immigrant, enduring an awful marriage with an abusive husband who cheats on her, but she stays for the baby. we also get another through-line of Joan of Arc. the three threads or layers actually move fluidly through the stereo format — it’s hard to keep track of it.

you can see it as another form of concentric circles, those of women in history who “transcended suffering,” i suppose, but Cha invites us to be more skeptical of celebrating women in this way. marriage here is one of the most oppressive and torturous institutions imaginable. and in these cases of pain, different women through time seem to rise out of the text, in a way similar to Walter Benjamin’s messianic conception of history. we get a still from Dreyer’s film about Joan D’Arc, that famous tear-stained close up. we also see a photo of St. Teresa dressed up like Joan of Arc for a play.

the feminist avant garde might be characterized as deliberately sloppy. films by Su Friedrich or Minh-ha may be scattershot and deliberately obscure, but sloppy i dont think they are, even if they refuse the coherency of a proper masculine closed system. Cha’s embracing of mythological and classical forms and her intricate placement of every element makes the book incredibly dense. the very last piece is a photograph of nine Korean women — nine muses. one of them is the militant and martyr Yu Guan Soon.

another photograph opposite the title page is graffiti on a wall scrawled by a Korean minor in a forced labor camp in Japan. he’s addressing his mother, likely never to be seen again. wholeness is false — Cha shows us that the honest way to do history is to haul up these fragments of misery.

her conceptualism drives the text to become spatialized, so to speak. although that’s really hard to follow through, since words still have to be read in sequence. the photographs of handwriting, actually reproductions of photographs, probably do most to hold the reader in that liminal spot between text and image, line and space. here she tries to give voice to a yearning and experience that really can never be understood. the space itself is kind of a festival, all the same, with its own rituals, and everyone inside is free to “become” something, not their true identity, which is meaningless anyway, but just becoming, again and again and again.


read in november 2015

Robert Parry, Reviving the “Liberal Media” Myth

Gabrielle Bellot, Flight of the Ruler: A Transwoman in Exile

Scott Esposito, That Revitalizing Fever

10 Trans Women Prisoners They Definitely Didn’t Tell You About in History Class

Benjamin Balthaser, Jews Without Money: Toward a Class Politics of Anti-Zionism

Black Lives Matter Supporters in Oregon Targeted by State Surveillance

Your Social Media Posts are Fueling the Future of Police Surveillance

Stephen Corry, The Colonial Origins of Conservation

Marcel Bois, Hitler Wasn’t Inevitable 

ONKWEHÓN:WE RISING, Nican Tlaca Communism Part 1, Towards a Synthesis

Israel to Coordinate with Google, YouTube, to Censor Palestinian Videos of Conflict



have the courage to read this book


[CN: Anti-black violence, n-word mention]

It’s really exciting that a piece of literature so completely dis-interested in appeasing whiteness is getting the scale of attention this book is receiving. Yes, you should read it. Yes, it’s every bit as beautifully written as they are saying it is. It really is an open letter to Coates’s son; it has the language of a letter in its simplicity, its anaphoras. The paragraphs are breaths, extensive and measured, containing an incredible rage at a cosmic injustice, and they end on powerful and sometimes enigmatic imagery.

You can almost see the struggle of the publishing industry in trying to market this book. The blurbs i hear on it, regurgitated from press kits, is that it’s part autobiography and part historical examination of the Civil War and of black power struggles in the time after the Movement. And it has those elements. The language includes history, grapples with it, shows much of it to be an illusion conjured by the white establishment, the Dreamers. But it’s not for your edification. The jacket says Coates’s language builds towards “a transcendent vision for a way forward,” when nothing could be more diametrically opposed to the author’s framework. Coates is a thorough materialist, the body is the spirit, and this makes the violence wrought on black bodies in Amerikkka, the power lorded over these bodies, all the more tragic and criminal.


space noir in blue, red, and green

IMG_0047The second rip of Burroughs’s Nova Trilogy has left my brain blown apart into discrete pieces before being pasted back together like the collage of consciousness presented in the book — which is to say i dont know where to begin. (The beginning of the book, in a slightly different version than my edition’s text, can be heard aloud from the author here.)

There might be at least three global catastrophes involving the mass combustion of the Earth, a Lovecraftian or Event Horizon-esque descent into violence and depravity and madness among the human population, and the swift destruction of all language leaving silence in its wake. There’s also a brief scene of a boiler explosion on a ship. There’s an odd Biological Court bureaucracy in which lawyers fold-in their reports with pages from Kafka. We learn a bit about the elusive Nova Mob, opposed by a righteous Nova Police Agency. A noir story in outer space is spliced in with newspaper articles, Shakespeare, THE GREAT GATSBY, Conrad, and Joyce’s DUBLINERS (typically the final words). Although NOVA EXPRESS is often listed as the third book, Oliver Harris’s introduction informs us that it is in fact the middle volume, although it’s also the third book of a trilogy including NAKED LUNCH and THE SOFT MACHINE, which is explicitly acknowledged in the text. Nothing’s ever straight with W S. B.


brain-chaos in the muffin factory

Evan Dara’s THE LOST SCRAPBOOK pp. 175-225


The patchwork of oral history continues with two long, strange stories, and some smaller pieces that introduce highly specialized knowledge and a peppering of technical language. We meet a character who changes from a “she” to a “he,” and the book begins to embody more characteristics of encyclopedic narrative and postmodern play. While there are a lot of mysteries going on, only one of which is “solved,” there’s still nothing yet about a scrapbook, lost or otherwise (apart from the work itself as a lost scrapbook, of course), but there are more corporate shenanigans.


everybody’s grandpa

Evan Dara’s THE LOST SCRAPBOOK, pp. 6-72


Many of us im sure think a little about how to write differently. To make something that could push out beyond Brechtian alienation or the long postmodern and all the rest of that which is now tradition. Is there a text out there that really captures this moment, the psychological situation brought on by late capitalism, and promises a radical response? Is there a book that turns its gaze onto this current political-historical dilemma that frames our discourse — the blood on our hands which postcolonialism highlights, the tension between the margin and the center; a book that prescribes some kind of antidote to contemporary alienation while still conscious about how power works?

It was Evan Dara’s THE LOST SCRAPBOOK which i was told was a white male writer’s text that offered a model to navigate this moment; one that delivers on its radical promises. i dont read the blurbs on books often but there was one on my copy from a monograph, and how often does that happen? Professor Jeremy Green calls it “the most formidable political novel of the 1990s”. The source, Green’s LATE POSTMODERNISM: AMERICAN FICTION AT THE MILLENNIUM, which i read a few months ago, brings up

Robespierre’s distinction between the “citra-revolutionary,” those moderates of the French Revolution who wished “to draw the Republic back from the resolute measures necessary to save it,” and the “ultra-revolutionary,” fanatics who were determined to push forward into further extreme and excessive acts.

And THE LOST SCRAPBOOK is to Green’s eye an “ultra-postmodern” text, fun! i want to devote more than one post to this book and chew on it slowly. It’s pretty wild and exciting yet oddly wistful, and there’s only two teases of a plot line but the pages just tumbled by; it’s compulsively readable.


essay canon dispatch no. 6 — “Once More to the Lake” by E.B. White (40’s)

image found here
image found here

So according to the CNF essay canon, this short and sweet piece by the scribe of grade school treasure CHARLOTTE’S WEB is THE essay of the 1940s. The author describes cherished memories of visiting a lake in Maine with his dad, and then later returning with his own son. The blurb on the webpage doesn’t do much to sell it at first, calling it

a nostalgia piece about fathers and sons, often serving as a prompt for a what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation essay.

But there is something creepy and sinister working through the text. As i think about it, i cant settle on right model to get at what im feeling. Is it a wholesome on the surface with the skeeviness kept hidden? Or maybe a center-margin sort of thing, that is, while the body of the work is about safety and eternity and the glorious summers of youth, at the margins is encroaching destruction and death.