The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2023

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FEB 2023 Issue

Lexically Sugared Circuits of R/elation: A Conversation with Adeena Karasick

Chris Stroffolino: When listening to songs, sometimes I feel the lyrics so deeply that I forget that if it weren’t for the voice of the singer and the other less, uh, logocentric elements of the song, they wouldn’t have had that power. I get a similar feeling about your “fracturing of language and image” in Massaging the Medium, and how it “asks the receiver to not only think about the subject matter but to negotiate the multiplicitous modes of information when conflictual communication models are at play; how and in what ways is the media massaging the message as it hits various emotional, psychological and cognitive registers at once.” (2)

So, after spending a few weeks slowly reading it, with an emphasis on the medium of language, its rhetoric, vision and performative meta-play, lately I’ve gotten into carrying it around with me when I’m taking a break from other books or student papers, to focus more on the construction of the images, to relish the color combinations and wide variety of images, the surprising juxtapositions and aporia they create or allow, but also the ways they seem to comment on the text at least as much as the text comments on them.

While the text in this meme (in Section Four of the first pechakucha) can be taken as kind of title, or summary, of the text above: The Message Never Arrives (editing out the word “fully”), the seven (yes, seven!) images in the visual create their own media ecology like a visual poem.

Although one of these images is a yellow backdrop with black text on it, a mathematical equation whose “message” certainly eludes me, elsewhere a feeling of a spectral blue feels dominant against the black background. It appears in every image: the central cartoon of a pink female figure (apparently from the mid twentieth century), the two distorted filtered classic European twentieth century paintings, the scream motif that appears also in the last section of the pechakucha) seems to be introduced.

Blue even appears in the final image (if we read from left to right, top to bottom). This image is a twenty-first century cartoon image that seems to admit an anime girl crawling out of a flip top cell phone, like the first fish who flopped on land and grew legs. I see the fingers of the hand of her “user” or “creator” holding the phone. There is also some sort of electric megaphone speaker device overlaying the phone on the right side, but nobody seems to be talking on it. On the left side, there is a bidirectional dialogue balloon, in which apparently the anime girl and the unseen mouth presumably connected to the fingers of the user are talking—but there are no words in this dialogue balloon except a series of bullets with no bullet points, markers with no content. Furthermore, the anime girl is facing in the opposite direction from the dialogue box, as if trying to get away from her user. In the text above the meme you write, “The telephone is prosthetic and foregrounds the amputative present.” I feel this image also is a powerful way to challenge the metaphysics of presence, as well as other themes throughout the book.

So, just using page fifteen as a starting point, my questions for you now are: Many of these images seem to be found images, but are many massaged? Did you create some of the images? Do you devote much research to finding the right images to go with the text? Or do you often find the images first before you write the text? Did the images go through the process of revision?

Adeena Karasick: First let me say how i feel so blessed to have such a close and attentive reader—and it’s hit you on so many levels, ’n especially rapt with the color palette, the intra-chromatic coding, as it were, which itself is another discourse; the resonance of textural modes, models, memes… even the recurrence of 7’s which appear and re-appear; a septenaria of intermediatic textaticism, ha! So, where even to start, (in this amputative present of our dialogia ; )

Diving into this new form was such an investigative journey. First, as long as i can remember, i’ve been so keyed into both the visual and acoustic aspects of language, and get so much pleasure in highlighting its physical and material qualities. And so, with this project, extending this physicality/visuality through both representational and nonrepresentational images/references/textures, was a kinda thrilling exercise. It’s not that the medium relies “even more on the visual,” but thinking about how the [medium is the message] or [form an extension of content], or even Bernstein’s, “an extension of an extension,” for me the visuals here offer another strand of the conversation—where together they become a verbo-visual convergence of multi-sensoric stimuli.

So, just using page fifteen as a starting point, yeah, many of the images are indeed found, collected over time, but all massaged to various degrees: re-sized, colored, and collaged, over-dubbed with various modes of defamiliarization. As you know, i’m so drawn to the “verfremdungs-ty” feel of mashing up something cartoonish or animated or full of high gloss and juxtaposing it against the Shannon Weaver model of communication, on top of a video still of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga’s, “Telephone,” mashed up with a Dali painting reworked with a melting telephone in it, or asking the viewer to revisit Munch’s, The Scream (1893) in light of the frustration of how meaning never “arrives.” It makes me think back to my Dyssemia Sleaze of 2000, (which Maria Damon also wrote about), and how obsessed—even then, almost twenty years ago—i was with the concept of “dyssemia” referring to how information goes out but never reaches its destination. As a kind of centerpiece, that book also features a hybrid collage essay exploring how the Wall (The Western Wall in Jerusalem) is structured like a language—punctuated by a wild and subversive range of visual/comic and destabilizing infusions—an early precursor i suppose, to this project.

So, you ask, in this book—did i devote much research to finding the right images to go with the text? Absolutely! I would write the text first, and then obsess over various ways to represent it. It was all created on old-school Powerpoint. Typically, i would focus on the language, the concepts and then just start collecting images from the web, from photographs i’ve taken, vispo videos i’ve created, from shards, scraps, fragments amassed over the years—and often very late at night, using a very lateral/paradigmatic process of play, of addition, subtraction, excess and engagement, focus on the variant ways i wanted a particular section of text to be represented. And yes, it would go through an infinitely circulatory process of revision as i routinely would finish one and then in light of what was created next, i’d go back and back and back, adding and layering and re-collaging.

One other consideration was, i was aiming for a very delicate balance of not wanting to be too literal, but yet giving enough information—due to the fact they were originally created for live performance; for audiences that were not necessary our typical academic literary crowd, but geared for media ecology and General Semantics communities. And, as they were “live,” the original visuals were moving, filled with film clips, GIFs and overlays, sonic montages, so it was quite an adventure to re-create that complexity and translate it to the page.

In many ways, the images themselves tell their own story. In a kinda Derridean destinerrance, all nomadic and vagrant, the visuals themselves announce themselves as a kind of polyoptically-based diasporic poetics that provides another narrative/n’errative. And like how a meme—a unit of cultural energy that virally replicates itself in a kind of contagion: themes infect themes, icons, colors, codes repeat/re-produce, traveling, unraveling with and against and through each slide, all slippery, salient and speaking aslant—creating a s[y]mb[ol]iosis of verbio-visual space.

Stroffolino: I absolutely believe you succeeded in your “aiming for a very delicate balance of not wanting to be too literal, but yet giving enough information.” I love when you say “in many ways, the images tell their own story” (and one, I’d say, that transcends any story anyone could make of them, yet I try coz it’s kinda more fun than tweeting and texting). I feel it’s a very social book. Not being able to see you perform in “real time,” as your performance reverberates within and through an audience like a post-performance party, I guess my urge is more for a reading group to meet in a living room and look at the book and the images and shift roles from art critic to social critic to standing up and intoning your words, as I listen and play piano, as my overly rigid mind enacts reductive meanings I make out of a few fe(s)tishized imagesin n’errative fashion!

Thanks for reminding me that these are “slides, all slippery, salient and speaking aslant;” it makes me aware of the physicality, the tactility, of the slides I was “razed” with, little physical white squares with translucent images on/in them, and the process of translation to an often larger than life screen as these pages, coming from the primacy of perceptual performance that—as Steve Hicks puts it—“transplants” the audio to the visual or “more specifically collapses the boundaries between,” while managing to avoid etiolated forms of ocularcentrism. Since you mention that “the original images were moving,” I definitely experienced a few of the stills actually moving, as the text moves through perspectives in interstitial trans-narrative time, I am curious if you’d want to say more about how the seemingly more static slides on the page in the phonocentric pechakucha moved in the “real time” performance. Was the text above the slide also projected on a screen, or read aloud? Did you actually present each slide in performance for only twenty seconds?

Karasick: Oh man! First, let me just say i love how you say “it’s a very social book…in interstitial trans-narrative time”—and as such am so living the image of you playing the piano at this imagined pos-performance afterparty as we negotiate light, relationality, meaning and being. So let me just take my imagined martini ’n say—yes! in performance each “slide” was programmed for only twenty seconds and i dare say it took a lot of practice! In early stages of composition, the text was so much longer, so it was a good exercise in condensation—which i actually loved due to the tough maximalist aesthetic, a diminutization of words. Yet this constriction or compression of ideas made way for a sense of infinite expansion (as it opened itself to further connections and references).

The text itself was not projected but read aloud—though often at the speed at which it was read, it could have been helpful ; ). But it seemed redundant and also posed the problem of where to look—at the images? at me? at the text?—and i didn’t want, (as you so eloquently alluded to)—to “fetishize the ocularcentrism of the text.”

And in regard to your curiosity about the seemingly “more static” images on the screen, they rarely were “static,” as in almost every case, each micro element featured some form of animation—whether encased within a trance-y psychedelic gif or using a variety of design effects as they grew, shrunk, dissolved, spun, appearing and disappearing. Sadly, that’s not evident in looking at it on the printed page—however it highlights how (between oral and textual performance), one is never a transcription of the other—that the textual surface offers so many other nuances, micro-connections, temporal and spatial negotiations and complexities otherwise not evident in a rapid-fire twenty second “live” carnivalesque presentation; or in the words of McLuhan, a “hot medium” that engages the full sensorium.

Stroffolino: “Engages the full sensorium!” That’s such a great way of putting it… the “outside inside” of the book… but back to my scripted questions!

Although many of the images or memes you include in your slides are of twentieth century phones, the written part of the text tends to focus primarily on the twenty-first century phone. At first, the text focuses primarily in the arena of what the twenty-firstt century phone and its various calls have done to us, how it has changed us; how it’s “become a site of toxic addiction” (17) and is “increasingly dividing us.” (33). Yet, unlike some other contemporary media studies and cultural philosophers I’ve read (say Byung Chul-Han in Psychopolitics), you do not emphasize a feeling of alienation from the medium; the text does not cast a relentless pounding feel of some theoretical prose, but, lined as poetry, becomes more effective because of the jouissance, a weaving of spirits and/or theoretical affective specialized orientations to evoke more liberating possibilities in the midst of this dystopian systemic psychopolitics.

In section nine (page twenty) you write about how using the disembodied voice phone medium of texting can actually kick “some age old Western teleological binaric distinction / to the curb.” The images that “adorn” (Steve Hicks’ word) this written text bring us back to a mid-twentieth century dualism (that is still predominant in certain circles) in somewhat stark, clear, contrasts. The seven (but kind of eight) phones that take up the bulk of the space in this slide are all twentieth century phones. Four are black and white/grayscale, two are color (I’m bracketing the midcentury human figures here). In the smaller bar above, there are the covers of six Derrida books, and seven other books whose title is too small to make out (in performance, were they more visible?). In this visual, Grammatology and orality become highly segregated, and rigidly specialized, in contrast to what the “text” says. These juxtapositions can create a generative space of inquiry.

At first, I feel a voice telling me the twenty-first century medium can be a liberatory way out of such teleological binaries, but on remisreadings I acknowledge admiringly your agency in this section (this is the first section in which the active “I” appears as subject), as if it is not “the medium itself” that does this, but the way(s) we (as media) respond to its call, call to its response…

Karasick: Yeah, i wanted to explore, from a historical perspective, how the telephone was originally perceived and how now it’s simultaneously a site of utility, amusement and complication—and thus erupts (as you so eloquently put it), as “a generative space of inquiry.” Something i address both textually and imagistically and thus, the range of representations throughout the ages—visually highlighting ways that yes, the telephone’s amazing and useful and a source of infinite connection and information but yet, contributing to ways we’re all drowning in a sense of ersatz significance, that thwarts our ability to focus, analyze, filter, or synthesize information, short circuits thinking, often renders us “context blind,” without patience (or ability) to sift through complex issues, and has become a site of toxic addiction.

Stroffolino: Yes! Yes!

Karasick: So, yeah, i was focused on how we got here—and embracing the telephone as a conflictual arena—highlighting how though (traditionally) grammatology and orality were segregated/seemingly oppositionary, the telephone as a medium in fact embodies the dissolution of this dichotomy; acts as a physical manifestation of subverting teleological binaries.

And also, i was so interested in dialing deep into the medialogical effects—highlighting how yes, it’s a communicative vessel, but yet inundates, saturates us with a kinda technomediatic overload through not only the sheer excess of info, a scrambling of relations—and as such, though meant for communication, reminds us how the “message” never fully arrives (i.e. that you can’t express “tone” in texting etc; how, there’s always “noise” in the system); reminds us that no matter how tribally connected we think we are, social media is increasingly dividing us. All to say, the telephone is great, yes, a locus in many ways of absolute jouissance, but also so incredibly problematic and disturbing—not to mention the ways it’s dumbing us down, changing our grammatical habits, contributing to memory loss; a source of anxiety, distraction, screwing with our circadian rhythms… So that’s why there are representations of phones throughout the centuries (both twentieth and twenty-first—some black and white, some in color, one say, on page twelve, a composite of both)—in one way harkening back to a simpler time juxtaposed against what the telephone today represents. And also, ahem ; ) i was just totally attracted to the kitchiness of some of them ; ) And as such loooove some of the new Flip Wilson/Geraldine memes you brought to my attention.

And as you so aptly noted, it is in this section that the I is capitalized for the first time—graphematically embodying that sense of the enlarged subject—re-born from the snapchatty/tiktokin’ meta twittering of narcissistic amplification—speaking to how (as you put it)—it’s not “the medium itself” that does this but the way(s) we respond to its call or (in the words of Blondie), how it “call[s] me”.

Stroffolino: I like the way you reframe my use of the word “agency,” which may too much appeal to the rhetoric of a metaphysics of presence, as an “enlarged subject—reborn … from narcissistic amplification.”

Karasick: And, oh yes, lastly, the books featured in this section included Derrida’s, On Touching: Jean Luc Nancy, Stephen Kern’s, The Culture of Time and Space 1880-1918, who reminds us that the telephone enables us to “be in [multiple] places at the same time,” Derrida’s, Of Grammatology with the implicit pun of PHONEcentrism and Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy—which though in the book are not hugely readable, were definitely visible in performance as they were projected on giant screens.

Stroffolino: Steve Hicks calls the first pechakucha a “back history of the telephone,” but it is not a linear one. When I get to the final section (page 33), with its rising emotionally wrought rhetoric, as if musically building to an emphatic conclusion and a kind of cathartic affective release of tension (theatrically reading aloud to myself the alliteration can be fun), the last words are “screaming to be heard.” If it is the phone that is “screaming to be heard,” is the phone thus personified as needy?

Karasick: Well, with all its algorithmic amplification, i think, yeah, the phone is kinda needy, where not only are we via all our social media platforms screaming to be heard, but the phone itself, buzzing n vibrating and full of alerts and notifications, insistently ringing, pulsing, tracking us. Don’t you feel your phone; with you, in your pocket, against your face, your legs, your chest? We sleep with our phones, eat with our phones. Our phones are alive with the sound of music, ha! We take them on trips, on subways, planes and trains, they are extensions of our cars, our bodies. We physically attach them to ourselves by way of earphones. They need to be recharged. Need to be needed. And we speak into them and they (perhaps in the voice of Siri or Alexa) speak to us. Perhaps needy isn’t the best word, but desirous. The phone is a desirous being in an ever-state of becoming, de-sire. Siri. hmmm…

Stroffolino: I think it’s the first time the wordscream” has been used, as pathos enters the text that had generally been more tonally detached, investigative and informative before. The image of the scream had been used before, but the text spoke primarily of a “call.” The image of the scream reappears here, an always already theatrical(ized) mannered scream in the upper right-hand corner, but there are three other images:

In the upper lefthand corner, I see a mid-twentieth century business man, whose facial expression, loosened tie and slumpy jacketless shirt looks haggard, weary, worried, overstimulated by the act of trying to take four 4 calls at once, in a kind of horror that may not exactly be a scream. He’s only holding one phone, but there are two next to his ear. The two other phones are either being held by off stage actors or props people, or in mid-air by their own volition.

This image, in your text, “repeats/re-produces,” through “traveling, and unraveling” a similar unit of cultural energy I felt in the first (titular) page of this phonocentric pechakucha (page 11). Placed in the upper-left hand corner (where the textual eye is trained to start?), I see a mid-twentieth century woman also with four phone receivers. She seems to be using her body to “take” these calls more than the man in the last image, holding three of them, and using her ear, shoulder, and chin to hold one of them. Her classy shirt and facial expression also starkly contrasts; head tilted (partially to hold the phone), eyebrows raised, with a sidewise glance and an open mouth that looks anything but haggard and overstimulated (like the male on page 33). Her attitude seems more comic. Furthermore, she seems to have more, uh, agency, as one receiver is intentionally held away from her ear. I could read all kinds of drama into it; for instance, are the other four talking “behind this fifth caller’s back?”

Another similar contrast occurs between the first and the last slide. In the first slide, which is mostly in monochrome, as to further suggest the text promises a historical narrative that moves from the past to the (multicolored and pixelated) present, the only image of twenty-first century phones seems to occur as a palimpsested footnote, at the bottom and behind and almost crushed by the weight of the other, older, images: a pile of cellphones huddled and re-tribalized as it were; though a few seem turned on, I feel this as a “cellphone graveyard” and could get into the narrative of twenty-first century global waste and environmental destruction of conspicuous consumption, or mortality.

The feeling of “cellphone graveyard,” however mistaken, in both the title slide and the final section, affectively informs my reading, and could be read in terms of your post-Benjaminian ruminations on the relationship between past and “the present we walk backward into; a present / (which is also a gift)” and “the present is always re-presented in a messy prescience” (16) throughout this pechakucha, as well as the more elaborated critique of the metaphysics of presence more foregrounded in other pechakuchas in your book. Though the image is somewhat similar in the last section, and still the only image made up of twenty-first century phones, it is now foregrounded a little more at the top of the slide, and in color, alive with blue (again).

But most of the space taken up by this ensemble of images in the final slide emphasizes an ensemble of four or five (postmanic?) choreographed ballerinas on stage in what could be an outdoor theater at night (in the round, or least a galaxy spiral); each have outstretched arms holding five mid-twentieth century phone receivers.

The dancers’ gestures are an archetype of gracefulness, as it were, or statue of liberties with Bernaysian “torches of freedom” (phone as cigarette). The phones have no connecting wires, no base where the dials or keypad or ringer is—mobilized, dynamic, but impotent phones. If the phone is a prosthesis that amputates the present, the way this image amputates the phone could give the “present” back its legs and arms, a proprioceptively receivable calisthenic ensemble of heart healthy aerobics massaging the medium, a giving that could remediate the Husserlian now as the now of music! (jazz, Teruah!)—or is the black night of the sky merely a painted backdrop, “trending images on galaxy walls?”

In this, I can see this final slide as presenting (enacting) different responses to the call of the phone, call through the phone, the call before (and after) the phone (Teruah!) from a whisper or scream. Mortality comes “into play,” (but) “permutated with the tetragrammaton” (to quote from a later piece). Since these ballerinas, like the cellphone graveyard, are an ensemble, are they more “retribalized” than the mid-century individuals in the upper left-hand and right-hand corners? Does division retribalize us? Was this written before the increased pandemic web-dependency of “social distancing?”

Karasick: Omigosh let me just say again what a pleasure it is to have such a close reader; all that you see, the connections you’re weaving. And wo! before i answer, let me just say i love how you, like the phone itself, connect the unconnectable calling into and across all the chapters, and (at the moment) struck with your musing of “is the black night of the sky merely a painted backdrop”—so deeply Benjaminian—making me think even the ringing of the telephone (the pounding insistence of its repetition IS always already a reproduction)…

Psyched with how you brilliantly connect the ballerinas of the final slide to the cellphone graveyard, seeing them both as an ensemble of sorts, raising the issue of tribalization. To address this, let me dial up (ha!)/re-call the recent Dean Fleischer-Camp film, Marcel The Shell With Shoes On. In case you haven’t seen it, it focuses on Marcel (a shell) and his documentarian, Dean, who are living in an Airbnb. Marcel’s family has been abducted, and Dean attempts to help Marcel by posting info online, endeavoring to digitally foster community—with the hope of finding Marcel’s “abducted family.” But what happens is, instead of actively helping Marcel in his quest, the mass of digital recipients, narcissistically take [shell]fies outside his home—not so interested in mobilizing search parties, but garnering reactions on their social media platforms. Leading to an exasperated Marcel eventually blurting out “this is an audience, NOT a community.”

Stroffolino: Shell With Shoes! What a dynamic emblem of twenty-first Century Techno-Culture that has gone far beyond the pre-cellphone late twentieth century The Truman Show.

Karasick: So, this is what i’m thinking, does being infinitely connected make us closer? Were we more tribally connected before? i dunno. Does division retribalize us? Well, it certainly helped during COVID when we were so alienated from each other (and when this was re-visioned for the book). But in a larger sense, to answer this is to be able to define connection and division, which itself is an icky dichotomy because we are heteroglossic enunciative processes, our subjectivities and proclivities so fluid, in flux; our media, ever shifting; the info around us is ever-changing—and as you invoked my “Teruah,” truth itself so very slippery and conflictual, so i’d have to say the phone facilitates this sense of us as a retribalized “ensemble” – but maybe how like bpNichol says in The Martyrolgy Book V, “(every(all at(toge(forever)ther)once)thing,” an ensemble of shifting symbols, of re-semblance, dissemblance—a troubled tribal : )) that’s simultaneously trivial and retrouvé (recovered); all palimpsested and multiperspectival; in excess of its excess and become a nexus of synnexes, annexes, diexis, lexically sugared circuits of elation, collocation, condensation and distortion, as we amble through this information maelstrom often with shifting allegiance and fidelity to an origin, politics, purpose or agenda; as “social actors.” with our electronically shimmering communicative vessels of light.

Tr[i]bal tr[i]bal tr[i]bal since the day [she] was born ha!

Stroffolino: “Half-Breed” by Cher! Talk about a circulating resonant meme! I’m also interested in how gender comes into play in your praxis in this book. On page seventy-eight, you write of your 2013 piece, “Lingual Ladies” as a “culturally translated ideological mash up.” While in the final section you write of “the salomiac elasticity of page and stage.” Is there anything more you’d like to say about this?

Karasick: Well at bottom, as hybrid collage essays, inherent in their very form (both graphematically and visually), they question a traditional model of linearity, logic systems, binaric systems of margins and centers. Inscribed instead as an irreducible heteronomy, marked by a spectral sense of otherness, a palimpsestic fleshiness; that is slippery ’n hot and highlights a communicative model that is multiple, resurgent and conflictual, caressing the complexities, mounds, crevices, trigger points, openings—and i would dare say, this radical massaging of messages is a feminist practice.

Further, each piece incorporates a Cixousian model of libidinality, of excess, abundance, overflow, whereby the body corps/body text, embodies, re-bodies, disembodies all that is forbidden verboten and bodies forth through language—where meaning is continually re-created through the interstices, foregrounding language’s skin as wet sweat seeping into not just textual but techno-political, visual and acoustic spaces. And as lips slip through elliptic lisps, slits, lapsed splits each “koochie” underscores how language is always already in excess of itself, inscribed in multiplicity, fluid, in fluent effusion, diffused through migrancy, translation, r’elation, serration, nomadism; mad and non-localizable, embracing, in Irigarayan terms, “the writ(h)ing, the lips, the wound, the word” that doesn’t close down dialogue but with a kind of maximalist aesthetics, inscribes a sense of dyssemic difference, of labyrinthian wounds, scars, ornament, excess—an invaginated investigation—

Or in other words “a fempoetics,” or maybe to use Miriam Schapiro’s term, “femmage” (her neologism combining feminine and collage). For whether investigating the telephone or talking media, modes of post-conceptualist poetry, or overtly through the Salomé chapter (which of course re-envisions the apocryphal figure through a Jewish feminist lens), through both form and content, each “koochie” explores a complex interweaving of invaginated surfaces where secrets secrete in many ways like the female body; a spectral economy of effluent effusion, excess and desire effecting not just a research of assertions but one that is more probey and vibrational and opens dialogue—and between messages, modes, models; en medias, re-massages its medium, where meaning, media, and communication countersignatively contract and explode through an ever-expansive realm of possibility and enunciation.

Stroffolino: Do you have plans to perform any of these pechakuchas again?

Karasick: Well at the moment I am recording the audio of one of them (the Korzybski/bissett) for an IGS Podcast; will perform a few of them at the launch scheduled at the swanky, historic Player’s Club, (date TBA, stay tuned!), and also creating a kind of mashup of them to be performed at the 24th Annual Media Ecology Convention in New York next June…

Stroffolino: Great! So….as a kind of Postmanic Postscript, you write, in the Fifth Pechakucha: “Refracted Facts The Crazy Talk of Checking In: A Postmanic ‘Pata Semantics:”

All language is rhetorical rather than denotative and any emphatic statement carries within it a cultural, lexical and political history that reinforces, engenders, instigates, propagates a metaphysics of presence (I.e. the Husserlian “now”). And thus, it’s crucial to continually contextualize, uncover the fabrication, analyze the violence that this initiates and sustains; seek out the hidden assumptions and reveal the inherent violence of this dichotomy, and not lose sight of the larger systems of subordination.
–page 96 (section 8)

I bring this emphatic statement “against” emphatic statements into play in this already long dialogue, as it could serve as a critique of some of the emphatic statements I’ve made in my little n’erratives of your images. Also, to acknowledge for the curious reader that the first pechakucha in Massaging the Medium that we’ve been focusing on is but one of seven, and that Checking In, the fifth section, emphasizes written language as a medium much more than it does the “cell,er,net” focus of earlier sections. I become aware of the careful placement of the ordering of the pechakuchas in Massaging The Medium. Is there anything you’d want to add about these int(er)(ra)textual juxtapositions on the macro-book level?

Karasick: First, let me just say, so fun how you gravitated to that particular phrase as its just such a reminder of how (especially in the contemporary climate) it’s so important to try (as much as possible) to read things within a socio/historical/ethno/political context—and as we look backwards into the future, the present is always re-presenting… With that said, in terms of looking back to the book’s compositional makeup—after a seemingly infinite amount of shuffling and reshuffling, the text actually ended up being in chronological order—which not only uncannily seemed to thematically make the most sense, but secretly highlighted to me that forces beyond my control are navigating the work, ha! I like how though written within a seven year span, the seven pieces speak to and fold into each other in ever reverberant ways—i.e. how it starts with the telephone, calling into and across ways we communicate; moving through our imagination (always already an image’nation an emerge’nation); moving into a realm of how talking machines seem to be “mystical,” but like language itself, actually refers to that which is “enigmatic,” “obscure” (and sometimes) “logically inaccessible;” & how language itself is a machine—sentiments echoed through the pechakuchas on the poetics of bissett; Conceptualisms[s]; Checking In; Salomé—accentuating how all meaning making a kind of dance of desire “misce-en screaming in the polyglossic intertextual miasma.”

Stroffolino: In Section Three of Checking In, you write, “And, as the text tempts, tremors, terrorizes, teases, torments and titillates, we must learn how to loosen our grip” (91). That’s very much how I feel after spending a month or so rereading the book. The image in the slide, perhaps, enacts this process. It is one of the images I had mentioned I felt, even on the page, was moving. First, I feel a macrocosm in the microcosm: outer space in a web of blue and red capillaries. The woman seems to be gripping tightly, with both hands and feet, this web of capillaries (that also look like branches and twigs), like a circus rope dancer. No, wait, for dear life, as if afraid of falling into boundless time and space and ending up like Bowie’s Major Tom, but, on closer observation, and/or “after awhile,” she doesn’t seem to be clinging to these red and blue ropes, but more like a kind of swimming. Then I return to the text and read, “As Jack Kerouac might say, embrace its ripple,” (liberating a madness of discourse where Fancy Bread rhymes with lead, etc)—okay… Thank You for your Teruah!

Karasick: LOL well re that quote on page ninety-one about loosening our grip, i was riffing on bill bissett’s “text bites” (which actually appears on page ninety-three in the book), and just thinking through, yes, Meaning can be tyrannical—i.e. one can get locked into some limited context/“a metaphysics of presence” but i’m more interested in how we need not be trapped but traipse, trip through a trapeze-y cirque of carnivalesque dialogism where yes! we are suspended by threads/fabrications/interweavings; and it’s always a dance of connection, disconnection, confection, predilection, webs of desire; as we (with loosened grip) ripple through pulsing space/time textatically moving through zones of resistance—experiencing the limit by touching it. And, hey, Sir Stroffolino, thank you! It’s been my supreme pleasure – addressing / undressing all your probey swirls, re-marks, extensions. Who else is gonna raise my Gaga to Major Tom, Cher…

Stroffolino: And who else is gonna raise McLuhan’s Medium Is The Massage to Benjamin’s “angel” with the phone’s prose-ethic wings by invoking Hegel’s “underground work of changing the ideological coordinates” (as Zizek puts it) as “technology exposes the real as a weaving of spirits” and make theory pataphorically crazy stoopid fun coz “truth is always already a point in space that contains all other points” (98)?

And who else is gonna inspire me to play a dirge-like version of Blondie’s “Call Me” and remember they also did “Hanging On The Telephone” as non-ocularcentric visions of mash-ups dance through stumbling finger-ear coordination before the arrival, in the iPod of memory, of Exene Cervenka’s “Your Phone’s Off The Hook (But You’re Not)” and, as I gaze at the gaze of your piano woman on page fifty-one through the unseen ears of the trumpet emoji on page forty-seven in the jazzination of my goyish shofar to ack(nowledge) or feel the spectral fluidity in the amputative present of your gif that could keep giving, who else could raise “forces beyond my control are navigating this work”?

Oh, and now that Facebook is called Meta, as Google is called Alphabet (which I just thought they did so they’d be earlier in the alphabet than Amazon), I wonder what that does to the word “meta.”

Karasick: metastasize? Ha!

Oh St. Stroff, what a treat to enter and journey with you through this extraordinary christoverse! : ))))) Rippling through and loosening our grip, touching each other through this spectral fluidity, reading your reading of me, i’m reminded how for Derrida, the whole notion of touch, is characterized by an ontological in-betweenness, highlighting how no matter how close, one can never fully “be with.” Or how for Thomas Aquinas, “‘touch’ is not skin but the interplay of the senses” or for Walter Benjamin, “touch is the optical unconscious,” let me just thank you for this and leave you with a “touch” of this uh Codette:

Touching in the Wake of the Virus
Between abstract impact contact tact
axes of attraction transaction infractions reactions
have you through the daring viscera apparati
apparition partition screaming parties
touched the improper inappropriate impropriotous riotous
touched la cirque of skin sucked succour
swung scripts voiled squalls’
scalded s’écretes scandals contours entreés
For, what lets itself be touched touches its border
touches only a point, a limit, a surface;
as a tangent touches a line
without crossing it



Chris Stroffolino

Chris Stroffolino has recently published reviews of poetry books by Maw Shein Win, Tureeda Mikell, Joanna Furhman and others in Konch and Entropy. A dialogue with Daniel Nester is forthcoming in Matter. He currently lives in Oakland.

Adeena Karasick

Adeena Karasick is a New York based poet, performer, cultural theorist and media artist and the author of 12 books of poetry and poetics. Most recently is Massaging the Medium: 7 Pechakuchas, shortlisted for Outstanding Book of the Year Award (ICA, 2023) Checking In (Talonbooks, 2018) and Salomé: Woman of Valor (University of Padova Press, Italy, 2017). She teaches Literature and Critical Theory for the Humanities and Media Studies Dept. at Pratt Institute, is Poetry Editor for Explorations in Media Ecology, and has just been appointed Poet Laureate of the Institute of General Semantics. The “Adeena Karasick Archive” is established at Special Collections, Simon Fraser University.


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2023

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