Adeena Karasick is a Canadian poet, academic, cultural theorist, and multimedia performance artist. She is the author of eight books of poetry and has produced numerous videopoems. Her second book of poetry, Mêmewars (Talonbooks, 1994) won the Silver Award for the 1995 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Her eighth book of poetry, This Poem (Talonbooks 2012) was named one of the Top Five Poetry Books of 2012 by The Jewish Daily Forward. She currently teaches Poetry, Critical Theory and Performance at the Pratt Institute in New York, and is co-founding Director of KlezKanada Poetry Festival and Retreat. The Adeena Karasick Archive has just been established at Simon Fraser University’s Special Collections.
As an interpreter of cultural codes, Karasick uses a vocabulary that is effectively current and relatable to media-savvy readers, but that also poetically translates the layered semantic codes that permeate our current epoch. In a media-frenzied mash-up of high and low culture, Karasick’s texts at once investigate and blur cultural codings of what is proper and risqué, private and public, virtual and real. Her erotically esoteric lexicon confronts language at the intersection of mundane and obscure, with uses and meanings oscillating in a fury of familiar and forgotten.
The following interview traces a conversation over email in the winter and spring of 2014.
Kate Siklosi: You’ve been called one of Canada’s preeminent “postmodern” poets—an infamously shaky term, no doubt. However, your poetry and poetics seem to be interested in the hallmarks of postmodernism (ie. its libidinal subtext, focus on mass culture, etc.) and I was wondering how you situate yourself in that conversation?
Adeena Karasick: Though that term is so slippery and contingent; historically, aesthetically, I’d say the work is “postmodern” in that it’s interrogating the foundation of its own ideological praxes; foregrounding a sense of polysemity and surplus; and marked by ruptures, stutters, ekphrasis, ellipses, highlights its own materiality. I’m interested in how various lexicons and dialects brush up against each other in celebration of all that is opaque and resistant to easy reading. And as I repurpose, sample, re-code, cut, paste and mash up—incorporating “nutritionless” language, unloved language, the debased language of media and advertising, the street—it’s postmodern, but also embraces a kind of congested neo-Poundian gravitas, a post Language pre-Conceptualism with libidinal underpinnings, glazed with a jewy/jouiss-ey quiet irony.
KS: My own work in my dissertation centres upon Black Mountain poetics as it interacts with theories of process, space, and place. I noticed that you cited Olson’s “Projective Verse” in your “Gentlewoman’s Guide” section of your most current publication, This Poem. Could you comment on the influence of Black Mountain, or Olson specifically, in your writing?
AK: Black Mountain was a major early influence as I was mentored by Warren Tallman, who navigated me toward Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Robin Blaser, and through him met and learned from them all. I was so drawn to Duncan’s mystical predilections, Creeley’s imagistic power, and Olson maximally. My work, though, maybe to do with my Jewishness, is less concerned with polis/place than with displacement, vagrancy, nomadicism, exile; how place gets re-placed in hyperspatial interplays.
[pullquote]“ … not so much ‘no ideas but in things,’ but always thinking about how language is always already “a thing” (physical, material, systems of relations) not a commodity for consumption, but housing all potential meaning.”[/pullquote]
I’m interested in the spaces between: in all that is uncharted and unlocatable, dislocated, or relocated in locution. Less interested in “writing the republic” than re-writing the “public.” And not so much “no ideas but in things,” but always thinking about how language is always already “a thing” (physical, material, systems of relations) not a commodity for consumption, but housing all potential meaning. And though I pay homage to this Projective lineage, in my work there’s a shift from transcendental Romanticized “Personism,” to Personne-ism (French for no one) that involves thinking about the self more as a construct of points of intersection for various historical pressure codes, matrices.
KS: Right. I’ll get to the projective in a moment, but I wanted to mention that when you reference “writing the republic,” you are speaking of Olson’s focus, especially in his magnum opus The Maximus Poems, on the “polis” or ideal city. Olson’s work is deeply rooted in the local community in which the poet, in concert with the landscape, is simply another participant in the process(es) of history. However, in your work, the local becomes the slippery, nomadic electro-mediac milieu of our techno-obsessed culture, the community to which we all participate and to which we all are complicit. This techno-polis, if I can call it that, forms the saturated, energized landscape from which This Poem springs, “Gnashing its tweets / Encoding its posts, embezzling / its open source knowledge” (53).
I also think what you say about language being a “thing”—a system of relations for potential meaning—resonates well with the projective poetic mode, since, as Olson argues in “Projective Verse,” the poet him/herself is “an object among objects” in the poem. By this, he means that the poem establishes an active field or environment in which the syllable, image, sound, and breath of the poet together act as participants in a field of variable collisions producing immediate meaning in the moment of poetic composition. This Poem is metatexually aware of this process, since the final section, “Rules of Textual Ettiquette: A Gentlewoman’s Guide,” provides “entry codes” for a pageantry of words wherein letters, syllables, and words are entreated to be left to their own slippery devices as objects floating in a shimmery matrix of undisclosed potentiality:
bow to your letters, curtsey, call upon them
in fertile efflux
Behold their secret artifice of unstaid dimensions,
Have them [move move move]
following instanter according to their decoration
and semiotic consequence. (81; original emphasis)
These last few lines are an almost direct quotation from Olson’s “Projective Verse,” wherein he instructs the poet to allow perceptions that arise to follow one another in rapid succession, thus building the energetic form of the poem as a “high energy-construct.”
AK: And, this “high energy-construct” in most of my work is propelled by a syllabic force—I’m thinking here how this is Olsonic, yes, but it also brushes up against the Kabbalistic notion of how each letter is a spark of intensity, a fragment of visceral fire that laterally expands and combusts creating all meaning from itself. From these interconnections and combinations, the letters erupt as slivered cirques of syntagmatic sequences. And through it is a syllabic labyrinth, a house of aural and graphematic ferocity, the poem “moves moves moves” into not a landscape but a languescape, a sonorific matrix of worlds, levels, layers of being created out of syllabic axioms. In this way, the poem is composed like in Pound’s Doctrine of the Image, “in the sequence of the musical phrase” through the euphoric ornamentation of improvisatory riffs.
And as it weaves an intertextilic lexicon, I’m always reminded how locus is always already a colloquy of illocatable locution—asking not so much “where is here,” but what road are we crossing and how. And if the road that This Poem is travelling is a Google-obsessed Twitter tinged track of trickled tweets of post-literary construction i-touching itself through not an “ideal city” but a technocity, so be it: that is its “city,” a lingually euphoric city of synchronicity, historicity, reciprocity. This city is a collection of moments, each a wriggling insignia of angles, codes, references, concentrated emanations and transmutations.
[pullquote]“ … a Google-obsessed Twitter tinged track of trickled tweets of post-literary construction i-touching itself.”[/pullquote]
And the city itself becomes a multiplatform interdisciplinary repository: an archive of fragments, updates, analysis, aggregates, advice. It forms a webbed network of serial simultaneity enfolding in on itself, where the future is always a-coming, en arrivant, arriving, la-venir, is always coming and arriving from itself, performing a vibrational political sonocentrics of (not place) but rhythm, pulse, plaise, plays.
KS: I love the idea of the poem as a city of flows, movement, and flux—a poem not of “place” but plays, as you say so beautifully. Your language is always slipping and sliding, moving between points along an unpredictable trajectory where the goal is not the end point of cohesive meaning, but the pleasurably frictive process between. And of course, going along with this, the formal innovations of your poetry definitely reflect a nomadic sensibility. How does this play into the gender politics of your work vis-à-vis dominant critical discussions of belonging in place versus drifting?
AK: It’s less a poetics of the “drift” but of the “rift,” existing in the fissures, cracks, breaks, ruptures. As intra-phonemically festive and multimediatic, the work draws from multiple sources, voices, eras, histories, lineages, lexicons. And meaning is not free-floating because it carries the weight of its palimpsestic history, and is continually re-creating its own eruvs, borders, orders, limits, laws, flaws. This is especially underscored, say, with homophonic translations, as in my poem “With Asura,” (adopted from Pound’s Canto 45, “With Usura”) or Song of Salomé (from the Song of Songs/Song of Solomon from the Old Testament). In these works, as the text is overwritten/written though anew, it carries the specter of its past within it.
And how is this playing into gender politics? Both as a woman and a Jew, it’s about being always a part of and a part from; cut off and cut into (like the mark of circumcision). And, as I cut, bind, separate, and connect through incisions, severs, semiological slips of cryptic schize1, I’m so interested in what’s communicated in the gaps, absences, caesuras of this hermeneutic cut.
[pullquote]“The result is an ever-shifting, undefinable community of linguistic innovation and contamination where subjectivity slips between difference and does not possess some portable and universal context.”[/pullquote]
This is the very cut that in Kabbalistic terms brings meaning into the word and is synecdochic of how language is always belonging and not belonging, is always between multiple cultures and traditions, renditions, and re-codings. The result is an ever-shifting, undefinable community of linguistic innovation and contamination where subjectivity slips between difference and does not possess some portable and universal context, but functions with transgression, invasion, contradiction, ambiguity, and thrives on rhetorical strategies of ornament and excess, hybridity and desire.
KS: You mentioned your poems “With Asura,” and Song of Salomé, which take their source material from canonic patriarchal texts and revise them as feminist reinterpretations and reworkings. This revisionary practice is a common strategy for feminist thinkers and writers; Hélène Cixous, who you mentioned a couple times previously, famously stated that “woman must write herself.” There seems to be an apparent male dominance when it comes to the publishing and criticism of formally innovative poetry and poetics, both in Canada and beyond. Can you expand on the ways in which your work might address / correct this gap in both its form and content?
AK: I’m not convinced that’s the case anymore. There’s so many innovative engaged women writing, publishing, editing. It’s thrilling—take Alana Wilcox at Coach House, Lisa Robertson, Marjorie Perloff, Rachel Blau Duplessis, Vanessa Place, Maria Damon with her inertextatic work with text and textile, Rachel Levitsky, Belladonna, Lunar Chandelier, Les Figues Press, the I’ll Drown My Book anthology, Caroline Bergvall. This was not the case even 10 years ago, but it’s so encouraging, thrilling and important that we keep carving the space, opening the ear of the other, letting these voices be inscribed, heard.
KS: Of course, the space of literary production continues to be opened by these imperative other voices, and your work is one of many that carves and writes through this space. If I may back up to a point we were touching on earlier, I’d like to hear more about how the concept of energy—the mass expenditure of cultural energy—figures into your poetics. Does this concept of energy figure into your feminist politics at all?
AK: When I think about energy, I think about information, and how both are uncontainable. Tracing the lineage from Fenollosa to Pound to Olson, for me, it’s not just that “the sentence is a transfer of energy” but all of it, the sonic clusters, lettristic collage, improvisatory riffs, gasps, groans; all the aporetic eruptions, typographic minutiae, space, silence. And there is never a DIRECT transference, because the message never really arrives. So the message is created in context, en proces, through active engagement with the text’s physicality and its aural, sonic, and intellectual reverberations. Not only “a dance of the intellect” but a syntagmatic dance of letters. And, maybe if as Duncan says, “Maximus taught us to dance the Man,” I’d say This Poem could remind us to dance the language, wild reaching through wild currents. A language charged with meaning.
Also, I’m thinking about Olson’s “the Head by way of the Ear” and the energy of sound and how that really does play such a major role in unbinding the rational—inscribing a kind of earationality—where so many times, for me, the sound becomes a kind of Zukofskian Upper Limit Music – fields of relation, elation, erration; an auditory space which creates its own dimensions out of itself, reminding us how meaning making is always an ongoing negotiation of language, power, definition and resistance.
[pullquote]“It’s not so dissimilar to what some might call a feminist flow of energy, a Cixouvian libidinal excess, an abundance of language and bodies spiraling between promise and promiscuity, infinitely reframing.”[/pullquote]
And thinking about energy and letters, this is my focus with Kabbalistic hermeneutics and the production of meaning through letters. That energy transference—spiralling wild and uncharted, yet continuously forming and reforming into a sultry semiosis of never ending possibilities. It’s not so dissimilar to what some might call a feminist flow of energy, a Cixouvian libidinal excess, an abundance of language and bodies spiralling between promise and promiscuity, infinitely reframing.
KS: Tell me more about the Kabbalistic undertones of your writing. I know you are interested in Kabbalistic hermeneutics, as it was the subject of your dissertation. Could you expand on this point and give a brief outline of how Kabbalistic approaches to meaning-production take shape in your work?
AK: Yes, my doctoral dissertation, “Of Poetik Thinking: A ’Pataphysical Investigation of Cixous, Derrida and the Kabbalah” examined the uncanny relationship between the major texts of Kabbalistic discourse and contemporary deconstructionist and literary practices. From very early on, I was just so driven by the inextricable relation between meaning and being and how this is not only a semiological exercise but a deeply religious practice. According to Avraham Abulafia (13th C Jewish mystic), we are commanded to engage in a process of Hokhmah ha-Tseruf, a process of linguistic “play” which has to do with substitutions and combinations of letters, skipping and jumping from one concept to another. And we are commanded to permute and combine the letters; focus on them and their configurations, permutations; to combine consonants into a swift motion, which heats up your thinking and increases your joy and desire so much, that you don’t crave food or sleep and all other desires are annihilated. And nothing exists except the letters through which the world is being recreated through a continual process of constructing and re-constructing borders, laws, mirrors, screens, walls. And in accordance with the strictures of Hokhmah ha Tseruf, through all the work, I am traveling inside the words within words, traces, affects, projections, sliding and slipping between the forces and intensities distributed through the texts’ syntactic economy, and it speaks to the continuous process of mistranslation that goes on in every moment.
So, whether in terms of my own homophonic translations (i.e. the translation of the Book of Formation in Dyssemia Sleaze) or the practice of repetition and reproduction inherent with all that might be seen as Conceptual, it’s all eerily commensurate with the Kabbalistic tenet that “creation” is continually re-enacted through repetitious enunciation of Torah. And with every articulation, meaning unveils itself as an ever-spiralling space, of simulacric re-production, brewing a kind of Rimbaudian “Alchimie du Verbe.”
So, whether I’m writing about how the Shmata is both a rag and a text (INTERTEXTILE: TEXT IN EXILE: Shmata Mash-Up A Jewette for Two Voices) or how The Kotel is structured like a language, or how the telephone is a deeply religious instrument binding the technologies of the past with that of the asemic dyssemia of the avant garde; read through a Kabbalistic lens, my work is foregrounding how the future is always arriving from itself, in an excess of excess of transcriptions, translations, referencing not an ontology but a “hauntology,” a discourse of traces, ellipses, markings, and echoes.
[pullquote]“ … the telephone is a deeply religious instrument binding the technologies of the past with that of the asemic dyssemia of the avant garde.”[/pullquote]
It is a space of multiplicitous systems of social and cultural signification, a space between cultures and idioms, that doesn’t close down but builds dialogue and celebrates its deterritorialization—recognizing that it’s always “out of place.”
KS: You mentioned the term asemic dyssemia, and it seems like this is a guiding metaphor in your work for the creation and variance of meaning, both on the surface and latent in language. Both “asemic” and “dyssemia” refer to communicative disorders that involve impaired receptive and expressive nonverbal signs and signals. Could you expand on your understanding of the term, and how you apply it to your poetics and praxis? How did you come to the term as a metaphor for the work?
AK: Well both words have “seme” as their root, and “seme” is a unit of meaning. “Dyssemia” has to do with how the message never arrives. How the information goes out, but never fully and completely reaches its destination. “Asemia” refers to non-semantic writing; examples would include concrete, vispo, Lettrisme, Derek Beaulieu’s work, bill bissett’s dirty concrete, trans or pata-linguistic pieces, media poetics, Maria Damon’s meshwords. So this coinage is really just embodying these two concepts about language and meaning production—highlighting the impossibility of communication in any clear and direct way; highlighting the uncontainability of language itself; how it’s always already utterly untranslatable, excessively referential and ever-elusive.
KS: Is it possible to see asemic dyssemia as a form of ’pataphyics, the science of imaginary solutions? Is your sense and use of the term engaging with this poetic paradigm at all?
AK: For sure—it’s ’pataphysical in that it’s disrupting existing discourses, ways of approaching language and meaning-making. The very definition of ’pataphysics acknowledges how language is always already beyond and beside itself, and in-so-doing provides answers to questions never asked. And, as a poetics of disruption, transgression, and “writing-through,” dyssemic discourse is (in the Jarry sense)2 a science of imaginary solutions, s’allusions, exceptions, receptions.
KS: I can see how your work might imbue the practice of ’pataphysics with a particularly feminist lens, since your “writings-through” mentioned earlier provide imaginary solutions and exceptions to “given” patriarchal texts by overwriting these texts with feminine narratives of empowerment that disrupt their masculine authority, their singular “all-knowingness.”
I also see some definite links between asemic dyssemia as a poetics and Olson’s poetics of “feedback,” a concept he takes from cybernetics that describes a communicative loop between the subject (human or nonhuman) and the environment, wherein each informs and provokes change in the other. As I see it, asemic dyssemia in this poetic sense could be characterized in terms of the focus of the text on the process of meaning-creating, which is never forthcoming in the Saussurean sense but is more or less revealed through the heteroglossic “feedback loop” of textual production. I was wondering if we could talk more in terms of this relationship between environment and meaning-creating. Since both Dyssemia Sleaze and This Poem are firmly ensconced in the contemporary techno cultural milieu, I’m wondering to what extent the text is informed by such an “environment.” Do you see poetry as acting on that environment as well?
AK: Thinking about the relationship between environment and meaning production, both Dyssemia Sleaze and This Poem are firmly ensconced in the contemporary techno cultural milieu, and as such, are predominantly informed by a very urban, contemporary lexicon, and speaks to the direct connection between form /content, media / message. So, for example, its rapid switches in tone, lexicon, foci, is in part responding to the hyperactive contemporary cultural affect of short attention span, but it also correlates to the Olsonian dictum of how one perception must immediately lead to another, instanter. Language moves from one vessel to another, one frame to another; the poem can be read as a polysemous repurposer for words to be poured into, flow out of—an intertextual mass containing multitudes. And, as nothing can ever truly contain anything else, there are windows within windows, frames, porticoes, side bars which lead to new systems of meaning, new possibilities of perception: all highlighting the very real connection between language and being, as one affects and is continually effected by the other.
Also, Dyssemia Sleaze was written while I was living in the Middle East, in Egypt and in Israel, and travelling through Jordan and Syria. I lived through terrorist attacks, market bombings much of it came out of my experience of being a Jew living in an Arab country; and thus the text is marked by tropes of hidden-ness and concealment, fear and displacement. And in the graphic essay “The Wall,” chipping a brick off Lacan, I was thinking through its history, context, philosophical and aesthetic resonances—how in fact, The Wall (The Western Wall / Wailing Wall) is structured like a language, and the various ways “it speaks”/ca parle. And how the image (l’image) of the thing is always already an homage, a mirage circling back upon itself.
KS: The idea of The Wall in Dyssemia Sleaze is so intriguing in terms of the frictive tensions in your work between semantic stasis and drift, and “rewriting the public” as you mentioned earlier. The Western Wall or Wailing Wall as a historical site marks Jewish displacement but it is also a dynamic site of emplacement, and by this I am referencing the practice of placing notes and prayers into the crevices and cracks of The Wall. In this way, the monolithic referent of The Wall becomes a fluid linguistic structure of inbuilt community, a Babel cut through and saturated with micronarratives of both grief and celebration that form a fluid archive between the gaps of stone and mortar. You engage with these multivalent strata in the form of your essay, which uses a vibrant texture of variant typography and graphics to provide a multilayered narrative of language, a prolific palimpsest of individual and collective desires, as seen below:
To follow on this point, in the essay, you refer to The Wall as a “grand public cenotaph, an open letter of secrets” and as an “un/official literary product and a forum for alternative press poetry” (49).
[pullquote]“The Wall becomes a fluid linguistic structure of inbuilt community, a Babel cut through and saturated with micronarratives of both grief and celebration that form a fluid archive between the gaps of stone and mortar.”[/pullquote]
Could you comment further on this tension between The Wall as a public, experimental, and communal narrative creation in response to sanctioned or “official” literary products? Later in the essay you refer to The Wall as “a place of interrogation” (62); as an “un/official” literary construct, to what or to whom might The Wall be responding, or what is it interrogating?
AK: Well all majestic and apostrophic, it stands there on the Temple Mount as a literal fragment of history; stands there posing as that which is firm, stable, and eternal, and but ironically is continually in a process of decomposition, decay and regrowth—all rhyzomatic, and trickling downward, marked by fissures and gaps. It’s a reminder of how genres, aesthetics, and traditions inevitably get re-written. What’s sanctioned and official and accepted is constantly in flux. The letters, blessings, prayers, poems spilling out from the wall’s mouth are themselves a heteroglossic enunciation of unofficial discourse, a compilation of traces, echoes, cinders inscribed in a spectral economy of exile, rupture, movement and uncertainty. Also, the actual letters disappear (due to climactic forces, overgrowth, vandalism, miracles or cleaning crews), and this literal absence is directly synechdochic of the gaps, caesuras, and silences which exist between language and meaning, and provides a constant reminder of language’s utter or inherent uncontainability. For me, the Kotel (The Wall) becomes, in Barthesian terms, “a text of pulsional incidents, [a] language lined with flesh, a text where we can hear the grain of the throat…a whole carnal stereophony.” And between the improper, inappropriate (impropriotous, riotous), depropriated, exappropriated, it celebrates all that is unofficial, “insane,” unsani-tized, and provides a political space to articulate and negotiate an unassimilable, aporetic language within its contingent margins.
KS: That quote from Barthes perfectly describes the sonic, visceral reverberations felt in your graphic essay, with its invocation in form and content of The Wall’s uncontainable voices piled on top of one another, competing and co-conspiring in the matrix of the page. The immediacy and energy of this “spectral economy” of The Wall makes it a dynamic field of possibility, where chance encounters and unauthorized interruptions occur. This reminds me of Olson’s concept (via Williams) of the poem as a dynamic field. He argues that in open-field poetics, the poet is an “object among objects,” and is responsible for the interaction of elements and energies in the poem underhand. How do you think you would situate yourself in terms of this poetics? Do you think that the field model is apt to describe your poetic process?
AK: In regard to Olson’s assertion that the poet is an “object among objects,” I prefer to think of that not so much in terms of an object among objects but rather as subjectivities among subjectivities, forming a polyglossic enunciative open field of fluid processes, praxes. The field is a flux of otherness wherein subjectivity bleeds and bifurcates, informing and being informed by all that surrounds it, all that it infects and cuts into, all that it hears, sees, breathes and intersects with. The poet or poem is never a thing in itself, an object, but an objet trouvé that keeps finding itself. And like language or meaning itself, it is not fixed or stable but always in excess of itself.
[pullquote]“I prefer to think of that not so much in terms of an object among objects but rather as subjectivities among subjectivities.”[/pullquote]
From a feminist perspective, this is perhaps to think of language as not objectified but rather an abjected sujet, a narrative which keeps re-inscribing itself as it intersects with the environment—never separate from, but growing into the gaps of density and complexity, re-composing its own field, re-fielding. Composition by yield, a poetics of permittance/admittance where language is agent/agency of transformation and change.
KS: “Composition by yield” says it perfectly: to give the write of way to whatever emerges in the flux and flows of the immersive environment. As Creeley puts it, “I’m given to write poems”—the poet, as witness to the creative process, is always (re)discovering him or herself within the poetic act. We’ve covered a lot of ground here, but I’m also interested in what’s to come for you. What projects are you currently working on?
AK: A couple of things—I have a new book in progress tentatively called Checking In, which is kind of like a faux Facebook listing of literary updates. But the other major current obsession of mine is Salomé: Women of Valor, which is a Jewey-libidinal re-visioning of the story of Salomé. It’s written to be performed with multiple voices, music, dance, and real-time film projections. A selection of the work was debuted opening night of the Tribeca New Music Festival 2014 with an original score by Grammy Award winner, and virtuosic trumpeter and bandleader, Frank London, which blends Arabic, klezmer, Jazz and bhangra musics. The show also featured a conceptual re-working/distorted mash up of Charles Bryant’s 1923 black and white film with Salomé with my text overlaid by New York filmmaker Abigail Child. Basically, the show re-visions Salomé through a feminist Jewish perspective by addressing outdated notions of identity and ethnicity where Salomé is not repeatedly victimized, scapegoated, and silenced, but occupies a space of transgressive power, otherness and desire.
A selection of it was published in Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues (Indiana University Press), The Daily Forward, and was performed in New York and Paris. The full show debuted on Aug 13, 2015 at Drom in New York, this time with live projections and featured a series of vispo elements co-created with Jim Andrews. A 70-minute version is slated for the Peak Performance Series at Montclair next year.
KS: I have recently visited the website you set up for the show with Jim Andrews. The site is very intriguing in that it fuses your revisionary narrative with hypertext poetry, where the reader’s cursor becomes a poetic tool that conceals and reveals alternative narratives as it interacts with the words on the webpage. Writing through prolific aleatoric paths through language characterizes the form of much of your oeuvre, as our previous discussion of The Wall demonstrates. The hypertext of the website recalls the multilayered narrative Wall, and plays on the hidden and manifest representations of Salomé in which you are engaging. Moreover, the form of the work—as well as that of your other texts—aligns your work with the French feminist traditions of écriture feminine, with its polemic of creating revised notions of femininity through the rewriting process. I was wondering if you could comment further on the show’s (and website’s) spirit of feminist, Jewish revision?
AK: Yes I love what Jim and I have created here for the show as an active engagement of participation, cultivation, hyper-mediatically underscoring the interface of play and game which is so much at the core of the jouissance of Salomé. Using his dbCinema, a graphic synthesizer composed in Adobe Director, he “brushes” samples from a set of specified images, and uses those samples as paint [using sample images from Karasick’s visual poetry, the program “paints” with these pictures, synthesizing them into a layered composite of multiple images: it is like painting with different images instead of paint, with the brushstrokes registering a “stroke” of one image, then a stroke of another, etc.; and through this process, the materiality of language is highlighted, foregrounding the swirling nature of communication itself. Its seductive swathes of colour texture typographies are synechdochic of how language itself is material, visceral; how the body bodies forth, re-bodies, swells between the body corps and the body text—how meaning unveils itself as an ever-spiralling space where “Origin” is unlocatable; where everything is a re-articulation of a re-articulation, translation of a translation; where the past is palimpsestically re-passed, surpassed in an irrepresentable present non present or resonant present that continually escapes itself –which is all aesthetically and ideologically so utterly commensurate with the show’s feminist frame.
And in the spirit of inter-subjective collaboration, this asemic compilation has as its base slides composed from the lingual alchemy of self-proclaimed Luddite, and Toronto photographer, Blaine Speigel, created from the text of This Poem as well as Dyssemia Sleaze’s homophonic translations of The Book of Letters (which tracks how the world was created through language). These slides, composed of layers of text on acetate, were hand-placed on filmstrips then buried in the ground, treated with urine and semen and soil and then photographed and reframed. Then they were run through Jim Andrews’ dbCinemation, re-palimpsested and re-processed with a variety of shading techniques:
These works put into play a kind of Lyotardian dissimulation; a libidinous “freeing-up” of structures for maximum potentiality of expression, highlighted through a plurality of regimes of “phrases” that have their own rules, criteria and methods, and how meaning itself is an anti-hegemonic play of signification. This visual element mirrors the slipperiness of the text itself, and mirrors the friction in the fiction as the tale is tilled, toiled, and re-told as a re-mythed history.
[pullquote]“These slides, composed of layers of text on acetate, were hand placed on filmstrips then buried in the ground, treated with urine and semen and soil and then photographed and reframed.”[/pullquote]
Also, especially cool are Andrews’ Saloméic “stir-fry texts” where with a finger or mouse, selections of the Salomé libretto can be infinitely reshuffled. This interventive sensual navigation invokes a Wittgensteinian gameyness where with each new swirl of a mouse, caress of the finger (like a move in a never-ending game), meaning swerves through an ever-shifting context. This all metonymic of the utterly re-visionist nature of the text—where Salomé, who has been scorned by history and patriarchy, imprisoned in a narrative that has darkened Judaism and Christianity for centuries, is now re-visioned through a lens of female empowerment. And between the revealed and the concealed, the hidden and manifest, it traverses through Conceptual homophonic translations of the Strauss play and Oscar Wilde monologues, midrashic interpretations, Kabbalistic interventions, as well as a re-working of the Song of Songs (now Song of Salomé). Through the repurposed parsed play of risk, desire and semerotic transgression, Salomé is made new.
For further reading on Karasick’s use of The Wall as a linguistic trope, see Maria Damon’s excellent essay “Imp/penetrable Archive: Adeena Karasick’s Wall of Sound” in her critical collection, Postliterary America: From Bagel Shop Jazz to Micropoetries (U of Iowa P, 2011). You can find audio and video clips of Adeena’s work at her PennSound page.
- “Schize” is a French word meaning to split or divide. Karasick explains that she adopted the term from French feminist writer Hélène Cixous, who uses it to characterize multiple uncontainable discourses held in tension. ↩
- ’Pataphysics (with the intentional inverted apostrophe in the orthography) is a term coined by French writer Alfred Jarry in his novel Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician (1911). In contrast to metaphysics, the philosophical concept is defined by Jarry as “the science of imaginary solutions” to proposed problems. ↩