Archive for June, 2009


Man in the Mirror

I’m not sure how many of you have ever driven through Gary, Indiana before but it is pretty much the worst city ever. It smells like cold french fries for some reason and is cartoonishly dilapidated. I went there on Saturday to visit Michael Jackson’s birthplace. Below you’ll find a Ghost Island exclusive photo recounting.

There is something elaborate that could be said about the sort of American Dream circa late empire story of Jackson’s life, but there really isn’t much point in belaboring it. Enjoy.


Against Completion

Pick up a book that you love but don’t read it cover to cover. Pick up a book you might love. Start into a book with your hands. The water damage makes tumors, topography.

Read a passage of Gertrude Stein. Read a page or less or more.

Completion, the impulse towards completion, and the desire to make a reader complete are all tied together and all fundamentally non-responsive to the condition of the book. Plot is not meaning is not the essence or ontological core of the book. The book is pages and language, so experience it as pages and language.

Take a language bath. Pull down five books that will go sentence by sentence and break you up a little bit. Completion holds you and things together. Completion is the logic of progress. Do not believe that heterodox reading challenges the state but realize that orthodox reading is within the logic of the state.

The book that asks for completion is making a demand on you. Make demands on your books. Take them up as tools and aides. Take them seriously as what they are. Does the book truly make that demand of completion? The author may, but what do you owe the author? What right has he to demand?

Books are objects that archive orders of language and language meaning shifts. The logic of completion is the logic of exhaustion and the logic maximization. Do not exhaust your books, do not enter into a relationship of need or demand, but rather of free entry, movement, exchange.

To complete, to exhaust, to close the book on a book is to foreclose the realm of the unread, the fantastic aporetic space of potential. Read the all words of a book in the order they are printed but do not complete the book. The act is less important that the framing. Read a passage of Kathy Acker, put down the book, trace the crack on the cover.

Which is to say, take your books seriously. Take seriously their status instead of the edifice of cultural expectations surrounding them. Do not lament the impossible spans of time it must take to complete a book, but instead rejoice that you can enter at will, stop, skip. Rejoice that there is and will be the unread into which you can project the fullness of your fantasy and desire.


PAGE 108

After we take that Deep Leep, let’s all take a Deep Breath and finish this shit . . . 


PAGE 108

And the cool evening flowed into the autumn rivers, and the somber tides became the sigh of birdsongs.

You: How can I escape this never ending maze?

Hollis Frampton: Whatever labrynths it involves itself in . . . it will eventually resolve itself in favor of the protagonist and that the protagonist is the spectator of the work. There’s going to be no momemnt when an identifiable person appears . . . [rather] it offers to the spectator the possibility of a posture that’s so active in relation to the work that it orders on the utopian or is utopian.

You: This is heaven? Where’s Sylvia? How can I get out?

Douglas Messerli impersonating F.T. Marinetti: The mysterious rulers of this desert island are the Paper People, cone-shaped beings “surmounted by circumflex book-hats,” who hiss their instructions into the ears of the Negro guards. In short, not only is this world ruled by people of the written word—not unlike bureaucratic paper pushers—but is metaphorically ruled by the author and readers—the ultimate Paper People who push and bully their raw entrapped characters into a bizarre series of events.

You: Do they know where She is?

HF: Now we are not perfectly free to make of language an agonist in the theater of desire which is itself defined by the limits of language. Every artistic dialogue that concluded in a decision to ostracize the word is disingenuous to the degree that it succeeds in concealing from itself its fear of the word . . . and the source of that fear: that language, in every culture, and before it may become an arena of discourse, is, above all, an expanding arena of power, claiming for itself and for its wielders, all that it can seize, and relinquishing nothing.

You: I? I must do what?

U as GI Joe: The Power lies within I?

DM as FTM: And indeed it does! Form . . . a coalition with a few revolutionary Paper People, the Negro guards and the Untameables, led by Mirmofim, lead the River People into rebellion, determining to attack and smash open the Cardboard Dam—metaphorically, the pent-up creativity of the working class.

Whether you want to or not, that Master Signifier is shaking in its boot heels. Get that Girl! and don’t get shark bit, turn to PAGE 102


I can’t wait for #9

DEEP LEAP 2 is now a free download. Ghost Islanders abound therein: Adam Johnson, Jesse Malmed, Sean Higgins, me.

Also other people, loved ones, radness: Lizzy Youle, Egan Frantz, Raven Munsell, Jashin Friedrich, George Olesky, Devin Bannon, Sarah Simon, Mat Trumbull, Nora Harrington….



Relatedly, westcoasters should check out the In the Light Cave show, which, full disclosure, also features me.


On looking back–popularity, obscurity, and: a proposal for moving forward.

As far as music goes, it is a commonly repeated enough point that we tend to heap attention too enthusiastically, too readily at the feet of those who show any hint of promise. The internet and the blog have, among other things, made bands shockingly available, have busted open the doors on a culture that tended to separate taste into camps: the mainstream and the obscure. So, this is my question: what does it now mean to be mainstream or obscure, when it seems that everyone knows about everything and can download it instantly?

A caveat: I will admit that it is entirely possible that I exist in my own niche and as a result will consistently misjudge other niches, even if those niches happen to be large. I live on the internet, I don’t watch MTV (saying this might prove my lack of knowledge about a “mainstream”), I don’t own a radio. I don’t have a single idea what is at the top of the billboard chart right now. If I am to be faulted in any way, it is to assume that my experiences of popularity and obscurity are in any way indicative of a greater trend. I am open to arguments against my logic. I do not think I am alone in this experience, though. If it is not universal, there are at least a few others.

Before, the mainstream was generally defined by popularity, and, some would say conformity, though not necessarily always as a pair. Radiohead, or the Beatles, for instance, managed to achieve a great deal of mainstream success while remaining artistically curious. Conversely, we have all known a band or two that attempts to achieve popularity by aping more popular acts.

The obscure was the difficult to find, the difficult to appreciate, or the niche work. A talented but difficult band that released a single 7″ single at some point in the not-so-distant past of a show they recorded in their mother’s basement might have been legendary to a select group, popular for 15 people. EG- the first Vashti Bunyan record. If you had it, or knew someone who had it, or even knew about it, you were in the know.

I believe that the mainstream as we knew it is no longer, replaced by competing niches with varying degrees of popularity. There will be no mass-cultural events quite like those my parents experienced: walking down the street and hearing Sgt. Pepper’s blasting from every window. The mass-cultural event as such has been destroyed, or fragmented and sped up by the internet. In their place, we have niche cultural events, which are both more available and more mercurial. The blog band. The band on the last episode of Grey’s Anatomy. That rapper who sampled ______’s song. The micro-event is the event sped up and spread out.

Continue reading ‘On looking back–popularity, obscurity, and: a proposal for moving forward.’



Damn. I mean, why do I even try? No seriously. Is Gary Lutz a magician?

Because if he’s not a magician, why is this on the first page of image results for the phrase ‘Gary Lutz Magician’??


Weekend Notes

Some Notes:

(1) I made a website to list my publications. It has links and things. I also made a section on the sidebar of this page for contributor sites, so I encourage all of you who have personal projects you want to promote to list them there. Anyways, mine is

(2) I purchased Sam Lipsyte’s ‘Venus Drive’ a few months ago, read the first story, and put the book away because I was too overwhelmed with thesis-work for pleasure reading. Now I am being irresponsible and decided to do some pleasure reading in spite of the increased urgency regarding completion of my actual academic reading. Anyways, I am really psyched on it.

Lipsyte, more than many members of the Gordon Lish constellation, writes gritty, believable narratives. However, his stories rise above the genre of ‘masculine fuck-up tales’ because of the startling way that Lipsyte uses language. This collection is one of the first narrative-realist-literary books I’ve read in a very long time that doesn’t feel stale or conventional, that seems to take seriously the material possibilities of language as more than ornamentation but instead as a central element of the constitution of experience.

‘Venus Drive’ was released by Open City, a press perhaps best known for releasing David Berman’s ‘Actual Air’. Open City’s page for the book is HERE and contains a description, reviews, ordering information, and a sample story.

(3) Saw ‘Up’ in 3-d. I love 3-d. During the movie I teared up several times because it is the kind of emotionally hyper-manipulative film I love to see. I know it is not really related at all, but I imagined the old man in the movie to be Jacques Roubaud and the trip with the house to be his writing the books ‘Great Fire of London’ and ‘Some Thing Black’. Obviously they are two totally different things.


What I think about when I think about my home

If you are reading this blog, you are probably a totally stand up individual who is curious about a lot of stuff.  You might even have lots of crazy ideas and plans and you might be slowly and gradually feeling like they are all impossible because of crushing laziness and having to work all the time.  You also might get this vague sensation that everything is seriously not ok in the global economy and that if a bunch of Ivy League banker bigshots are all gobsmacked by the housing crisis (“This gigantic tract of identical $400,000 houses 75 miles away from a loosely knit collection strip malls in a region of the country with a climate similar to the side of Mercury that always faces the sun aren’t selling? Holy shit!”) then it is entirely possible that no one knows what the hell they’re doing and the foundations of our entire society are suspect.  I’m from Michigan originally, a state whose motto is “Si quaeris recessionum amoenam circumspice”, which means “If you seek a pleasant recession, look around you”.  This doesn’t actually give me or Michigan or any of the other states who decades ago turned into rusty cataclysms with rivers that keep catching on fire any sort of advantage in understanding what’s going on or preventing it.  It does, however, make me especially sensitive to my poor, fucked up but wonderful state continually getting kicked in the proverbial kidneys again and again, while already on the ground, spitting out blood, in a pile of broken glass.  I miss Michigan a lot and I love it.  The only problem is there is nowhere there to really live.  Kalamazoo is alright but only the most industrious, weirdo Goner Records obsessed aging hipsters can ever really get shows to come there.  Grand Rapids is a terrifying hive of rapidly reproducing Christians.  Ann Arbor is cool but sort of a rip off and anything north of the I-94 corridor is pretty sparse.  And then there’s Detroit.  I’m still sort of new here on Ghost Island (which is a pretty nice place too), and I don’t really know anything about philosophy and find the breadth and depth of the contemporary literary scene sort of intimidating, so I’ve been thinking about what I can bring to our community and contribute.  I’m going to start by trying to share some things about Michigan, the Rust Belt, the inevitable decline of the capitalist experiment (or experience?  I kind of like experience) and Detroit too, a place that is sordid but amazing and, in my opinion, one of the most complex and relevant things to think about if anyone wants to really look at what this country and global capitalism in general are all about and why they are both deeply deeply ill.  So, if you please, this will be the first part of some multi-part post extravaganza about a place that happens to be where I’m from, but I think is a good topic for conversation anyway.  If so inclined, please share your side too.  Let’s start with Detroit, shall we?

There has been a noticeable spike in melancholic little photo essays about empty buildings in Detroit recently.  Time and Vice and who knows who else did slideshows of empty schools and ghetto palms growing through old industrial equipment and the giant art deco buildings that are rotting to pieces.  Hell, it’s been in the news a lot recently.  Probably more so than any time since the mid-80s when that city started coming up on the urban studies nightmare trip that many of us know it for.  I should say right here, just to be more clear, that I’m not from Detroit or the dizzying array of sprawl that has been cartwheeling out from it for decades and decades.  I’ve never lived there.  I’m from across the state.  Some friends have lived there and been really into it, but only a handful of them still do. I’m not totally in love with it, but it is truly an interesting place.  Not in this fake sympathy half-interest glossy way that you may come across, but for what it really is.

Maybe you’ve heard someone who has a friend who bought like a decrepit bungalow in Flint for 45 dollars. Maybe I’ve drunkenly tried to explain to you why we should all buy a shambolic Victorian compound in Hamtramck and either live out our dreams or be completely ruined by it.  Things might start to sound pretty interesting.  You can live there for basically nothing.  There is all sorts of weird shit everywhere and these cool ghosts of the time when every major rock and roll artist had some song that mentioned Detroit.  Weird shit happens when a city of 2 million people turns into a city of 890,000 in 40 years.  You will probably see pictures of the old train station, the old movie theater, and the Heidelberg Project.   People want to call it something.  A cautionary tale (it is), a failed city in some sort of Roman empire sense (still a metro area of 5 million people so that’s kind of wrong) or some sort of catamite slum huddled around the auto industry (it’s not, but when every lead line of every article about auto bankruptcy leads with DETROIT- it can start to seem like it).  It’s not ghetto in the way Baltimore or DC or the Bronx or South Side are ghetto, it is ghetto in the way that if you go the wrong way down some street the road will just stop existing and you’ll have to do some U-turn in the parking lot of some brownstone (the only one still standing in like 3 blocks) with an oak tree growing through it while steam pours out of manhole covers that are surrounded by potholes that look like a diorama of the Somme in 1917, while career crackheads are darting around in your peripheral vision.  You can then try to ask for directions but every single store has bullet proof glass too thick to understand what the person on the other side of it is saying.  You’ll think you’re going to right way again only to encounter some parade of bums dashing into the street to rob some person laying prone on a curb before the cops get there.  Then you’ll realize that even if you call the cops they won’t get there.  It’s scary.

The next morning, though, you might see the five coolest things you’ve ever seen, and feel some sort of weird feeling that is vaguely familiar (complete, unfettered freedom) and then visit some noise music temple sandwiched between a gigantic art space where the people actually do art rather than surf the internet all day in some gallery so that they can barely afford to cram doing art into the 2 hours at night in the closet of their LES shoebox before they have to go to their other job.  Behind that will probably be a giant factory full of technically proficient graffiti and a large expanse of floor used as a squatter pick-up hockey arena in the winter and some sort of weird bookstore that is 4 stories tall and owned by some old guy who is probably cool but way too crazy to really be able to tell at all.  It’s truly something that must be experienced first hand to develop a better understanding of it (like skinny dipping).

The thing I always think of when I think about Detroit is the sheer possibility of it all.  I don’t mean it to be too cute and all to end on a sentence constructed similarly to the title (and nonsensically referencing Murakami, I don’t even know what that’s about) but I’m tired and that seems like a good place to stop, and start.


my friends do the best things: daniel buchler

The following three pieces are by Daniel Buchler, an artist based out of Philadelphia.  He provides us with a brief description of each:


The first one is called Behind Enemy Lines.  I did it while I was still in school–2004.  It has a lot to do with how fun I remember it being to twist the torsos on old J.I. Joes and snap the bands connecting their legs.  Its the same kind of mutilation.  Maybe it’s got something to do with how desensitized people are to this kind of violence, because it’s theatrically stylized.  Yet I still felt sorry for some of these figures–brutalized in spite of their plastic inanimate being.


Second one is a piece I submitted at the last minute to the 2008 Absolutely Abstract show at the Philadelphia Sketch Club.  I got a bit of feedback from someone who submitted before, was accepted, and was criticized by her peers for using representational objects.  “Don’t worry if you don’t get in.”  I got a congratulatory call a week later–Honorable Mention. This one’s called River.


This third one is the first time I’ve used linen instead of cotton duck.  I also drew on the canvas here, which I’ve rarely if ever done before–at least the entire composition.  The mugs here are recurring ideas called Blue Boy and Golden Child.  (I half stole that from Seinfeld’s laundry episode where his favorite sweater was called Golden Boy–the first shirt he wore from a freshly washed load.)  Groupings of mugs and bottles are fairly prominent in my stuff.  Its the closest I get to portraiture.  Humanized mugs and de-humanized plastic army men…


Interview: Sean Higgins

Sean Higgins consented to sit down for an impromptu interview. I liked it and so am posting it. It is not exhaustive. You may ask him more questions in the comments section if you want.


Question 1: What is your greatest fear?

I’ve never really thought about my greatest fear. I guess, that I will be in debt all my life. That maybe I will have taken a gamble on doing something that doesn’t really make any money, and then finding that I have to work a regular job anyway to support myself.

Or, moving around too much to find someone to stick with.

Also, jellyfish.

Ok, Question 2: Describe the best book in the world

A real book or an imaginary one?

Either, or both


I think there is probably a book that Nabokov would have written. Ada is pretty close.

I don’t know, it’s a tough one.

What makes ‘Ada’ nearly perfect?

I think it’s one of the few books I’ve ever read that doesn’t try to recreate the effects of memory simply by listing things that happened, but instead by creating the memories of the characters in reverse, always projected back from the present, always with a linguistic and sensory kernel. There are other books about this, naturally, but I think this one is underrated and deserves to be mentioned along with them. It’s a swooning, dreamy book about self-mythologization where all the characters are always their own myths. It can be sad, sometimes, but is always beautiful, playful, surprising, and graceful. No one writes about colors or women the way Nabokov does. A sensual writer with an intimidating brain and a big heart. It’s his favorite of his books, and probably my favorite of his, too.

Last 2 Questions: What’s so great about Maine? and: If you were a dead animal, what would you be?

On Maine:
Maple syrup, chickadees, the ocean, fire-truck red leaves in the fall, pine trees for the whole year, the unreal silence and the way the sky turns purple when it snows, riding your bike on empty roads in the summer, keeping your windows open on a hot summer night. Mostly, nature. I grew up near the ocean and need to live near it if I can. Also, there’s a bar near my house that has maybe 50 local beers on tap. It’s safe to walk around alone in the middle of the night. You can still go to a place where you can’t hear a single bit of evidence of another human being.

Dead Animal:
I would probably be, um, some sort of bird that tried to hide a shiny piece of electronic equipment but electrocuted itself instead. Hopefully a fast bird, though probably not one with a particularly impressive wingspan.

June 2009