Three Thin Weird Good Books About Sex and Power
Cunt-Ups by Dodie Bellamy
Cunt-Ups is an intense array of hyper-collaged sentences mostly about fucking, and being fucked. Where most texts would take that experience and chloroform it to the essence of a dick joke or a doily, Bellamy’s configurations of cut-up sentences, inspired by the processes of William Burroughs and Kathy Acker, make the language act as if it is in the process of fucking itself. Gender shifts and perspective shifts and grammar shifts midsentence carry a wild lyrical energy. Each line surprises. The text seems to want to make you fuck it too, using language as a drug that gets you spun up in the limbs in blenders. You could get done hard by pretty much any of the lines: “You used sleeping pills which were placed in my clit, which was so sensitive that I didn’t like it dismembered.” Or: “We keep fucking until we’re ash, leaving a smell as of horn, I must have come because it’s like the first time, I have to pass through this trying ordeal SO LARGE we would all be speaking and I awaken to your spiritual breasts, a perfect sphere of life everlasting, and after my so-called death we reach the O-C-E-A-N O-F C-O-M-E.” Bellamy reserves no object for the thrall to wrap around. She bangs necrophilia against childbirth, murder, and dirty fucktalk with a want for more. At the same time it does not feel cheap, the way so much affectless sex writing can: it feels 4D. Lines that in lesser hands could seem purple for how clear they are about their intent change in midline to something of a wholly different feel: constant mental motion. It’s nice to see the animalian nature of the act rendered so closely to the affect of it, with a voice that shifts the way mood does, and changes its shape by what it wants. A confession that changes its speech’s shape. Anyone writing about sex in any way should read this book, and read it hard.
The Malady of the Century by Jon Leon
Just out from Futurepoem, The Malady of the Century collects five previously limited edition texts by the enigmatic Jon Leon, who has become known for his somehow equally ironic, post-ironic, and even sincere preoccupations with suicide, artifice, and Lindsay Lohan. A blurb on the book’s back by Bruce Hainley nails this balance pretty dead on, calling it, “Like R. Kelly covering Les Chants de Maldoror.” I’m not sure what more I could ask for than that. The book, seen from one of its many faces, seemslike an exploration of the new young, at times channeling a more deadpan Bret Easton Ellis, without the necessary-because-it-is tedium. Leon’s voice is deceptively rich; it messes constantly with its received intent. His poise in delivering lines about penny stock and Mad Dog 20/20, “a palace of knives,” and Mischa Barton seems to remain a few steps ahead of itself, affected to the point where it’s almost notaffected at all—or wishes it weren’t. Or isn’t and wishes it was. The back and forth becomes hypnotic, indulgent in its own aura as it’s being created. It’s a really hard line to walk, and Leon seems to know more than he reveals, and sometimes the pleasure comes in wondering where the line is anymore, and what the aura even is. Not many books could contain the lines “I was watching a Kenneth Anger film when a large aphrodisiac God converged on me and told me to create a poem that pleases her,” and “When you are sucking, it is like you are pulling my heart through my dick,” in the same space. It seems to both worship art and turn its nose at art. I think it works, and it’s confounding.
On the Tracks of Wild Game by Tomaž Šalamun
Originally published in Slovenia in 1979 and just now in new translation from Ugly Duckling Presse, On the Tracks of Wild Game—in light of the two books above—presents what seems a calmer face, though one supercharged in language with layers of images. The voice here is at once vivid and precise, while leading us into a landscape that seems somehow capable of shifting a few feet. Where so often language is used to simply reflect, Šalamun’s is the kind of speaking that invents the world around it as it goes, pulling the parts of things we already know into new configurations. It goes up in the teeth of fascist regimes and god and nature and captivity and enlightenment and food and time and bodies. I best like books that make the saying A picture is worth a thousand words turn on its face, and though that could be true of most any sentence, so many of them feel like they wish they were a picture instead. I don’t see how you could take a thousand pictures and get most any of these sentences inside them. They would simply say no. Like this: “The black dog is docile. I artificially / create fear. Fear is a work of art. / I am a grave. I pour a bucker / with water over my head. None of this has / any taste, colors have their own / locus, their own sources. Like / ether they inhabit my body.” This is the kind of book that does work on your organism. It wakes you up in the face and calms you down. Get some.