This was given to me as a gift last year, and I finally decided to pick it up. Joyelle McSweeney clearly knows how to handle language. Although the middle section of the book was difficult for me to understand at times, I was always fascinated by her ownership of rhythm and rhyme. There are some beautiful sounds in this book. McSweeney also has an expansive vocabulary, and knows how to use words wisely. Her word choice creates a luxurious, campy reading experience. The feeling of campiness is emThis was given to me as a gift last year, and I finally decided to pick it up. Joyelle McSweeney clearly knows how to handle language. Although the middle section of the book was difficult for me to understand at times, I was always fascinated by her ownership of rhythm and rhyme. There are some beautiful sounds in this book. McSweeney also has an expansive vocabulary, and knows how to use words wisely. Her word choice creates a luxurious, campy reading experience. The feeling of campiness is emphasized by the fact that she uses Jack Smith's "Normal Love" as an example throughout the work. Of course the movie's creator helped found the idea of "camp" as we know it, so it only emphasized that mood.
I enjoyed McSweeney's argument about the pastoral. She argues that we create a parallel universe to our own, the pastoral, where we can escape in times of illness (predominantly physical illness, but it is insinuated at times that it is/can be emotional.) Although the pastoral is idealized for it's simplicity and for nature itself, we enjoy exaggerating/altering it. The pastoral "convulses" on itself-- it distorts time. It is the past, the present, and the future. McSweeney argues that this place is also equivalent to art, the occult, and death itself-- the more fake these places are, the more powerful they are.
These arguments were established in the first section of the collection, an essay that uses "Normal Love" to explain her definition of the pastoral. They were explored in a list-poem at the end of the collection.
The middle section, a series of poems titled "King Prion," did not add much to this exploration. While some were relatively well written, they brought the collection down overall....more
“You thought you could Death / On your own terms Do,” writes Joyelle McSweeney in the course of The Necropastoral, a book dedicated to the uncontrolled nature of aesthetics, to art’s need for a "hematomic Arcadia", in which the doing of death is kept on its own terms, out of our hands, discordantly askew. To speak of an uncontrolled nature, of course - as though it were the true nature of nature to be so uncontrolled - is to risk negating the lack of control of which one speaks, nature in itself“You thought you could Death / On your own terms Do,” writes Joyelle McSweeney in the course of The Necropastoral, a book dedicated to the uncontrolled nature of aesthetics, to art’s need for a "hematomic Arcadia", in which the doing of death is kept on its own terms, out of our hands, discordantly askew. To speak of an uncontrolled nature, of course - as though it were the true nature of nature to be so uncontrolled - is to risk negating the lack of control of which one speaks, nature in itself being a word so infused with "exotic landlordism" that, even and especially in its violent wildness, it has been colonized by the pastoral which the title of this short work both summons and decays. Indeed, to what extent, we might wonder, is nature in itself ever only a pastoral concept? When we speak of its hostility, when we recoil from its, by turns, icky and terrifying ability to plague and overwhelm the viability of our very existence, with its ichor and its earthquakes, on what level can we say that nature remains natural? In what way does it abide by the law of the possibility of something's placement within it, rather than offend the very idea of any coterminous vegetation inside its sphere, when "[t]his machine make its need louder and / Invites me into its duct, unlike the baby / Sleeping on the other edge of Pow’r, /Eyes roll’d, mouth pinch’d shut / Round Pow’r’s earthly sinks and shunts –"? And, knowing this, to what degree do we naturalists simply wish to sleep the sleep of the baby, dozing dreams larger than the ungrounded earth, close-eyed on power’s other edge, sleepwalking lords of the star of dominion, with its "Nazi hinges / Singe-ing yours"?
For McSweeney, the pastoral is a sham. But in saying it is a sham, it is also much more than a mere alibi for a pecking order or a deceitful aristocratic misconstrual of the unbound mediumicity of things, although it is, undoubtedly, deployed as a brutal weapon on the basis of both of these motives. For all this, however, as she writes early in the piece, "as with the occult, and as with Art itself, the fraudulence of the pastoral is in direct proportion to its uncanny powers." These powers, and their uncanniness, are therefore to be understood as the secret of the pastoral, the anachronistic artifice of its status as a set of egregious counterfeits and outrageous copies, copies and counterfeits which are inhibited from being understood, kept secret, as such, largely, by a pastoral orthodoxy that is itself pastoralized, in a meta-movement, dreamed into a "didactic or allegorical distance", sequestered in the cerebral complex of the idea of the scaped and the simple, classically framed about the life and society of shepherds not as set down by themselves but as hallucinated by class-warring scribblers and courtiers. Thus, for McSweeney, the problem of the pastoral is not the form at all but, rather, its corseted comportment, upon which she sets this mad cow of criticism - poetic, essayistic, effigial - toward the cause of, for once and truly all, having "an at home experience".
As all pastorals must have their shepherd, if only it be the scenery itself, so here the shepherd of this pastoral is the key figure of the poetic sequence, dubbed "King Prion", upon whom the book comments self-mockingly "Looks just like nutrition! / Acts just like an avatar!" Prions, we must remember, are pathogens of a singular and peculiar kind. Unlike other disease-causing agents, the prion is not bacterial, fungal, viral nor parasitical and holds no genetic material or nucleic acids. Rather, it is a protein, a thing that transpires in us normally, usually in an undamaging form. But by folding into an aberrant shape, this normal prion becomes a rogue agent and transmutes other normal prions into rogues alongside it, particularly afflicting the structure of the brain and its neural tissue, in a development at present untreatable and universally lethal. The link between proteins – "the molecular machines" of our body – and their prionic (as, perhaps, opposed to bionic) malfunction points, thus, to a corruption in mediation itself, as an aberrancy of figure, of fold, unleashes genesis as flaw, as anachronism, as "Weeping wound. Shedding copies of itself." To appreciate this obscene plethora of the possible, this "necrotic landscape convulsing with germination, suppurating time", in which the normal’s abnormal reproduction becomes perfectly fatal, it is not enough to look to medicine. One must look to media, to the problem of the uncanny powers that this thing called body is infused with and atmosphered by, like a balloon underworld where we things of mere material, to paraphrase Pennywise the Clown, float too. So it is then that the shepherd of McSweeney’s missive, our King Prion, is less sovereign than effigy, as all pastoral shepherds ultimately are, a wicker man of "a burial berth / In the afterlife’s / Low-slung motel mid-roadtrip mid-/ Lincoln Continental / divide", a burning man of an afterlife and a divide that takes its place neither in future nor past but in every moment’s ulterior, in its replacement for suicide, which is to say in its "plague of anachronism", its "Velvet Underground", which is art, and art’s association to the capacity for survival-in-death, and where, as she writes, "the exaggeration and febrility of the figures, the colors, and the landscape suggest inflammation, illness, both approaching death and suspension in a would-be 'timeless' place, a cinematic Elysium into which les incroyables have crossed, along with their plague."
To be plagued is, for McSweeney, to be protean. It is also to be archival, amid orchestrated erasure: "History?" she asks. “We’ll all be dead...As in, Bomb them back into the stone age." If prions indicate the incapacity for the normal to be free of terminal anomaly, the time of anomaly comes to indicate the capacity for us to be free, by the same logic, of the incapable terminus of the normal, into which anachronism, media, the deviancy of the real explodes, as if it were of a mind of its own but not: "Death’s issue / Casts his Bolt / From the blue to the brain / Like a bolt in the brain." And if one day the metastatic logic of prions should be, at last, cured, as the survivors of lost loved ones and the science of human health can only hope, the treatment itself will have to consist of a necropastoral care this aesthetic criticism is itself prefiguring, one based upon the cleft that is nature’s inconsistency with itself, its direct proportion to the fraudulence of its ironclad processes that are themselves in direct proportion to the exorbitant pastoral’s uncanny powers. However, lest we get too comfortable with such a vision of a future in which we are able to carry our plagues with us into Arcadia, we must be aware that the metaphysical problem of the prionic will not vanish with such a cure, nor Arcadia cease its hemorrhaging. We would not be one step closer to the immortal in the absence of the mortal consequences of pathogenetic normality, runs McSweeney’s thesis, as just all the more lost in medias res, our artfully supplemented, de-rogued molecular machines ripe not for finally landed leisure but for different genres of dispersal: "The Afterlife: A Necropastoral. There scum will be superstars, but the stars won’t rise. The uppers shall be downers. In slime. A convulsive sublime." Perhaps the most unaesthetic notion possible for McSweeney is, accordingly, the reduction of nature to an ethical imperative and thus of freedom to an organic fulfilment, a biopastoralism, a honing in on the formula for us to be one with the sleeping baby of things. To which she says, knowing counterrevolution's reification of death when she sees it: "Nice / Try hot /Shot King / Prion King / Prion / King."...more
--Hoooooooo … How Art was a silver paper moulded to the ceiling Where you cut your hair For your rebirth as Fata Androgyana The scissors-sister who slits where she goes-into Cuts as she cuts--)
Yesterday I was at a Lydia Davis reading and the prose guy who was introducing her kept saying there was no precedent for her, that her voice was her own, blah-be-blah-be-blah. And as soon as she started reading, I thought "Russell Edson." And when prose guy asked her about what she read when she was young she s--Hoooooooo … How Art was a silver paper moulded to the ceiling Where you cut your hair For your rebirth as Fata Androgyana The scissors-sister who slits where she goes-into Cuts as she cuts--)
Yesterday I was at a Lydia Davis reading and the prose guy who was introducing her kept saying there was no precedent for her, that her voice was her own, blah-be-blah-be-blah. And as soon as she started reading, I thought "Russell Edson." And when prose guy asked her about what she read when she was young she said Russell Edson. So riding high on having successfully noticed a thing once, I'm just going to guess here one part in the rhizomisphere in terms of the poetics of the poems and oppositional rhetoric of the prose: Amiri Baraka. For poetics, see constant enjambment of relatively short lines, rhymes of short vowels, and a general brilliance re: rhythm: “For a total of twelve hours at a clip The go-home-and-feed-the-baby milk of it That man is a mouth chased by ghosts Round a rainslicked hairpin off a cliff in” And like AB, McSweeney has been gleefully crossing and inverting genres (sci-fi, horror, etc—o man I wish I had time to read Baraka’s essay on Sun Ra’s sci-fi poetry right now), blowing up the expectations we bring to these genres as readers and, after the concussion, forcing us to re-assemble them out of the rubble. I’m still working out what is being said about the pastoral, anachronism and etc though if you want that, there are plenty of re-interpreters out there. What I’ve been thinking about is this: part of the supposed purpose of oppositional rhetoric is that it is catalytic. Some are mobilized and some are repelled. It seeks to create a divisive rupture in the audience, and a protected social space, a flammable wall, for those on behalf of whom the rhetoric is employed. That is, AB’s poetics and rhetoric were at times (and are) linked to a definitive social practice of a self-articulated group. Is McSweeney’s art arriving at a similar crossroads? Who is behind her flammable wall? It doesn’t have to be and there doesn’t have to be anyone. These are not questions of value but of relations. I feel agitations reading The Necropastoral. I don’t understand anything. ...more