44.1 Feature: Craft Essay by Aristilde Kirby
Aristilde Justine Kirby is 26, or Paris Hilton without the P & hotel dynasty, the poet of Arni, Louise Montalescot Fan Club President, gally ladròn, galgalim eyes, rose campion, paper champion. She has chapbooks with Belladonna* & Black Warrior Review. She’s published poetry with Vetch & Datableed.
L’EYENDA / EMENDER
(the-ender & emender)
final cute pro
(Ligustrum lucidum ‘Nightmare Trobairitz’)
by Aristilde Kirby
“Enter the override,
how we run the game:
sleeker & cheaper
they hear what I say
have paved the way”
— Interpol | Everything is Wrong
The above excerpt from the Interpol song is actually wrong. It’s officially “sleeker and cheaper, the wind changed…” but I always thought it said “win change” — the masking of certain instruments over the vocal placed in the center of music can lead an ear to think someone said something else. But far from that being an error in my mind, I thought of it as a new way to make meaning from something already extant — something more subjective. This phenomenon is called a mondegreen:
A mondegreen /ˈmɒndɪɡriːn/ is a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony, in a way that gives it a new meaning. Mondegreens are most often created by a person listening to a poem or a song; the listener, being unable to clearly hear a lyric, substitutes words that sound similar and make some kind of sense. American writer Sylvia Wright coined the term in 1954, writing about how as a girl she had misheard the lyric “…and laid him on the green” in a Scottish ballad as “…and Lady Mondegreen”.
Mondegreen wasn’t actually a word then — but here we are — and now it’s the word for this phenomenon. Despite it being made up from a sense of error, there is a heritage & roots for the word: monde as in the French monde as in “la fin du monde,” and the English green: connoting lushness, verdancy, or on the other side a sense of rot and grossness. It depends on how you want to play the applied reading. It can be like Ceremony | World Blue:
“The world’s down with sentiment
Harp strings that I’ve never heard
Family talk they talk a lot
Talking into telephones
I used to have a broken head
Broken words from broken thoughts
Too much blame on sorry self
I caught the world flu
I saw the world, blue”
Or it can be like Cephalic Carnage | The Omega Point:
“As it expands, out into the black
Mass separation, vast schematics integrating
A simple drive to complexity
Destruction breeds creativity
One destination comes at the end
Or it can be like Kylie Minogue | Everything Is Beautiful:
“The things I fear begin to fade to black
Now I’ve found my map and I won’t go back
Cause if I lie with you long enough
I can see the things I’m dreaming of
Let’s go through the ritual
Until everything is beautiful”
You can have whatever you like, as T.I. said. You can have anything I got, all of me right on the spot. You can have anything I own, work my fingers all the way to the bone, like Next said on that Jaheim song. But for now, let’s return to Interpol | Everything Is Wrong:
“I think I know why I say what I say
Inverse achievements, I rue the days
Am I more soulful? Am I coming down now?
Can we start over as agents of peace?”
What happens, via life, is the mondegreen, an interpolation of dètournement, a method that goes back to a paraphrase from the Comte de Lautreamont, author of Maldoror: to correct poetry in the direction of hope. You can apply it to poetry, you can apply it to anything, you can apply it to a whole life, if you wanted to. Ideally, life is the goal, along with collective action. It plugs in to a statement concerning the lyrics to Everything Is Wrong that interviewer Matthew Foster asked vocalist Paul Banks for The Quietus:
Everything Is Wrong’ seems to come from a kind of older, wiser person telling someone they can pull through, looking at despair with a bit of distance.
PB: I was aware when I had that lyric, I was like, “Am I really going to do this? Am I really going to have a song called ‘Everything Is Wrong’?” But, and I think this has been the case in our whole catalogue, where I honestly believe that as an artist, in order to highlight the positive, you can sort of focus on the negative. Because it automatically implies the inverse…So I feel like there’s a very positive gesture or impulse behind doing things that are a little bit dark or negative. Not to try and make anybody feel down, but to try and come up against what you’re saying and rebound. I mean, I don’t agree that everything is wrong. I can think of a bunch of shit that isn’t wrong. I’m not with you on that. That’s sort of the idea.
And then it’s also just the way everybody feels sometimes. You face the world, it’s fucked up. It really is, it’s falling apart. I feel like you can have moments, especially in the States, with all the NSA shit, Germany saying: “You guys are monitoring our parliament?” It’s really dystopian. You get crazy storms. Russia’s going off, maybe there’s going to be a war, maybe all the bees will all die, or the dolphins. It’s a bit much. So it’s not so much a message of, “Everything is wrong so let’s fucking quit it”, it’s almost, in a very weird way, quite empowering.
But then again, it’s up to you. What gets in the way of you hearing things how they were originally intended? Along the lines of 2009 & further on was the time I really started to live inside albums, where as before I was known as someone who was really enthusiastic about lyrics. Any show we’d go to, I’d probably have them parsed out, trying to sing whenever the frontperson extended the mic into the crowd. Rarely, I’d hold the mic in my hands, I couldn’t scream or sing very well, & still can’t, but like Wes Eisold said, “I know my voice isn’t great, but at least it’s sincere.”
In any case, I cut albums open & lived in the jewel cases, they gave me new resolve, they gave me something to occupy my mind, something to hope through, when I was most lonely they gave me shoulders to cry on, or a lullaby to fall asleep to, it didn’t matter if no one else was a big a fan as me concerning them, or even liked them at all, it was just me & the ditch I was in, trapped in mental unwellness. Living in albums include knowing all the lyrics, humming every melody, or in rarer circumstances, changing the tracklisting & even physically altering the songs to befit what I thought to be an optimal listening experience, like I did not long after Interpol’s El Pintor (2014) came out.
There were bonus tracks left off that, for some reason, sounded a lot better to me than certain songs on the final release. So I put them in, & took what I thought to be weaker tracks out, changed the tracklisting to fit my mood. Also — Anywhere, one of the most powerful songs on that Interpol album judging by the faster tempo version I was hearing played live before the album came out, was slowed down painfully, destroying the track’s momentum & drive. I went into Goldwave, sped that up by 5% & even made a pitch shifted alternate version that sounded like it had been on the radio.
Radio stations, pop radio stations mostly, speed up songs slightly to play more songs & make more adspace. Aside from the obvious capitalist implications, mastering for radio can make a song sound brighter: Frank Ocean’s Sweet Life pitched up — but not sped up — to evade the YouTube record company takedown algorithms sounds better than the original. It’s like the exposure on the camera used to make that video is subtly high enough to make the reflections of the sun off the pool cut through like finer gems.
In the press run for El Pintor, Rolling Stone asked vocalist Paul Banks if the dynamic of their band changed at the time, since Carlos Dengler — the fan-favorite bassist — left the band citing fatigue. Paul replied with:
“In a weird way, the upside of having a member leave is all of a sudden, you’re a new band again. Either that breaks you or it makes you stronger as some new thing. There’s an analogy with chemistry that I like: As a kind of compound, we were a four-atom molecule before and now we’re a three-atom molecule. The chemical structure of a three-atom molecule doesn’t mean it’s weaker. It could be a stronger compound or a more radioactive compound…I think that makes this record pretty exciting.”
The title El Pintor is an anagram of Interpol — & for my title I added Terpinol, a chemical in perfume that evokes the smell of lilac. It’s my favorite Interpol album, perhaps selfishly, only because I had something to do with what it is.
Anyway: The following is an excerpt from Gabriel Pomerand’s grimoire Saint-Ghetto of the Loans, (translation by Michael Kasper & Bhamati Viswanatham via Ugly Duckling Presse), an essential, landmark work of the lettrisme movement. The book is a direct precursor, from what I can see, of the Situationist concept of psychogeography — it’s a love letter to the infamous bohemian Parisian underbelly in which Isou and Pomerand established the movement. A map of the district is up top, Pomerand’s personal runes are at the bottom of the page, which the opposite page transliterates to the alphabetic French and then is translated to English. Although the forms of every section provided is fundamentally different in expression, they depict the same thing:
You think about a theory of forms, where the utility is exactly the same, but the forms it make take differ in degrees. We sometimes argue about what a sandwich truly is — is it an action, a state of being, is it strictly bread and an ingredient in the middle? Why is the middle variable, but the bread must be necessary? You can get lost in that thought, and it’s amusing, but the insight is that a given sandwich is always greater than the sum of its parts. You may have something you’ll scarf down in a minute, but this line of thinking, translation opens up your mind to how the sandwich got here, the forms it took just to arrive in your hands. Who grows the grain, who prepares the meat, the consequences of permutations of production. Translation should prompt these questions.
Of course there are forms of sandwiches you wouldn’t want to eat, or couldn’t eat, or some that are just downright bad, but even those are interesting — like the first dub of Nausicaa in the US: Warriors of the Wind, recut and so heavily altered the core story — just to fit a boardrooms idea of what American audiences would want. It exists, if nothing else as an example of a nightmare of localization, of translation as a colonial project. That’s, in a sense, what the Situationists called recuperation. But the recut film has a good ending past the confines of the movie itself:
When director Hayao Miyazaki was approached by Miramax Films’ CEO Harvey Weinstein about its U.S. distribution, Weinstein demanded that the film be heavily edited in order to appeal to American audiences. Offended by Weinstein’s insistence on modifying his work, Miyazaki left the meeting in anger. Days later, famed Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki sent a katana sword to Weinstein’s office, with an attached note reading “No cuts.” Miramax heard Miyazaki’s message loud and clear- the film was eventually released theatrically in the U.S. in its original, unedited form. When asked about the incident in a 2005 interview with The Guardian, Miyazaki simply smiled and remarked “I defeated him.”
It may seem like language is a semantic void, but it’s really not.
My chapbook follows a similar guideline, schematically, as Pomerand’s tome does. There’s the translation of a given section or line of Isou’s SI, then the SI itself functioning as a map for reference, then there’s a complimentary sonnet expounding on the story, then there’s a section where extratextual lyrics and quotes come in, most from He Is Legend’s I Am Hollywood. But the idea of that section specifically was to supply outside information — say a story, or a feeling, that parallels, warps, modulates, comments on, distorts, or contextualizes the work, her own lyric, an emotional landscape of, well, anger, anxiety, desperation — among other things. They’re plug-ins, and the story written through the SI was also written via the narrative and aesthetics of an old favorite album of hers, a membrane of different songs.
Again, The Situationists believed in the method of dètournement, a method that goes back to a paraphrase from the Comte de Lautreamont: to correct poetry in the direction of hope — the revolution in service of poetry. Isou’s letterist sonnet which basically says nothing semantically — which is really it’s genius — and makes it a perfect subject for this sort of practice. If life is a fight, like the defunct Atlanta emo band, then Lis’ attitude is to make it the final round in a tournament, and it’s one she wins, even if she can’t do it alone.
The World, as we know it, as it exists at a price, a parody of empire grafted upon the earth is her enemy. As you saw, The World lost. Celine is left with an empty space in which she is entrusted to make a better place that doesn’t resemble what came before. Of course this isn’t easy to just do for someone who hasn’t spent the time of thinking what that would look like. The World occupies our attentions in trying to get us to beat back our own crises, personally, or community-wide just to participate in Life, to the degradation of all of our lives. So it’s implied it’s going to take her awhile. She has the space though to fill her own place in absence of the world.
When Isidore Isou, a Romanian-Jewish immigrant on the run from the death drives of World War II’s impact on his own country & its eventual total takeover by the fascists, he came to super-bohemian Saint-Germain des Pres in Paris with ideas to reinvent language on the level of the sign, the letter itself. These ideas would further extend to a more comprehensive, all-encompassing view of art filtered through the reinvention of writing and beyond.
His movie, Treatise of Venom & Eternity he said the following: “How many corpses in the maze of the dictionary? … Our vocabulary is full of real corpses, a cemetery of men who died for words.” Traumatized by the sacking of his homeland by fascism, he found renewal in exacting the unnamable. He left the world of words he came from and went into himself, the movement had a substantial impact on French culture. The movie I quoted premiered at Cannes to raucous review. More letterist movies were characterized by a chiseling of the frames of film itself, of impressing a blade onto the form of projection to carve new significance into a given film. This is also a precursor to the detournement that characterized Situationist films, only ideologically and not physically. New dub tracks were made, new cuts of the movie formed to espouse communist propaganda to comedic or dramatic effect.
Anyway, the central idea was that language as we know it, as a shared good between people can never totally account for what we really express and feel individually, so language as this shared tongue must be eradicated in favor of a purely subjective one. Each individual person creates their own signs in an effort that mirrors asemic writing and hieroglyphics, to recover the letter, the sign, from the banalities of the myriad lingua franca we just grow to accept as the codex of our internal monologues. To reimbue symbolism with a new sense of mystery on the level of holy texts we can’t decipher, of which he considered himself an emissary of, a messiah in his own right — however ridiculous that may sound. Unfiltered self-expression via letterurgy.
Starting at zero, at nothing, at rien as opposed to Jean-Paul Sartre or Tristan Tzara’s neant meant that he had to go past the thresholds of those empty signifiers to bring back the symbology of the beyond. Isou sought to restore to modern language a majesty derived from the divine unpronounceability of God’s true name, the Aleph — all things to all beings.
In The Vanguard Messiah: Lettrism between Jewish Mysticism and the Avant-Garde by Sami Sjöberg, that we’re lucky to even have at our library, to be honest, you can find a detailed analysis behind that founding element:
When we say “nothing” when someone asks us what’s going on, or even better what’s wrong, it’s at most a convenient place holder, a shield from what we really mean or what we really want to say, for complex reasons, the most simple of those being that we don’t want to burden other people with the matter of our own lives, or burden ourselves with the thoughts of what they might think of you if you were totally honest. Going past rien is a type of freedom, of letting go. Rien leads to a metagraph of Isou’s we’re already familiar with:
Therefore, a language. & any language can be translated. The letters as meta-characters may mean pretty much nothing in isolation outside of their pre-scripted context, but put more in a sequence, and one can evince a logic even though the characters themselves can literally mean anything, if not nothing. In a way, it’s a prototypical detournement of these odd symbols we’ve taken for granted, because the real core of language is abstraction and anything else is just calloused skin organ around the muscles of the mouth and the bone of that being said. There always must be in translation a will to cleave to the symbols themselves. Margaret Sayers Peden says in her essay on the myriad translations of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’ famous Sonnet 145 — including hers — that
“as she conserves the integrity of the design, the translator must also monitor how rhyme & meter distort & stress the structure, how words, rhetorical figures, even concepts, can be twisted out of shape by the very effort to adorn the edifice with beauty & symmetry…The sonnet, reduced to its fundament, is contained in the first word & the last line: ‘éste…es cadáver, es polvo, es sombra, es nada.’ Any further reduction would lead to a blank page. That blank page awaits the ideal translation of poem 145, the reconstituted vase, the re-formed ice cube, the perfectly reconstructed baroque edifice.”
The core of Sor Juana’s Sonnet 145 is the collapse of all conceits toward representation unto the abyssal quality of the poem’s last word, where past the invisible lies stranger, more fundamental, elemental forces. Paul Eluard said that “every image inspires you to revise the entire universe,” and every character in the SI inspired Aris to do just that. It’s a surface for renewal, a medium for space, which gives way to place for a new person, new people to take shape.
Lettrisme approaches a natural con-lang to displace what we hold sacred about our own common ones, not that they don’t adequately represent us, but that we need them to. Any sound and shape, way of saying will do, with enough time & practice between people. Our fidelity in letters, in the languages we’ve formed, had forced onto us, is a constellation of alephs.
Yet, as the protagonist of Borges’ “The Aleph” questions:
All language is a set of symbols whose use among its speakers assumes a shared past. How, then, can I translate into words the limitless Aleph, which my floundering mind can scarcely encompass?
The Aleph, the omega point where said protagonist is able to glance everything at once, the infinite, but it only does momentarily, metaphorically through the hint that is the sign, the letter of the aleph itself. It means everything & nothing, it’s hard for the protagonist to even locate without an incredibly specific ritual that just happens to reveal it, the paranoid fear one’s going to die at the hands of a friend, a pained closing of the eyes, then opening them once again. There it is. How can he translate it? Borges, the author, responds within a discussion of the myriad versions of “The Iliad”:
(from Borges and Translation: The Irreverence of the Periphery by Sergio Gabriel Waisman)
Therefore, as was said, aside Pomerand’s final draft of his original translation of Saint Ghetto exists the translations. Neither seek to replace one another, but exist in the same space, in equilibrium. The transfiguration is more than necessary. It’s vital to establish a greater range of the work, movement, a drift derived into new meaning: it becomes an aleph of alephs, & the languages & letters that have ever existed, far exceeding 27.
The poem as translation, the star collapsing on itself, a collective locus for brightness in the infinitude of space has potential for renewal outside the bounds of copyright. A quasar, a black hole. Along these lines, I invoke An Yountae’s analysis of Alejandra Pizarnik from The Decolonial Abyss: Mysticism & Cosmopolitics from the Ruins:
The utterly negative character of the abyss depicted in Pizarnik’s poems is indicative of the existential chasm encountered at the horizon of finite human existence. But such a View fails to capture another important aspect of the abyss: a space replete for potential. Facing the abyss, in this sense, is different from facing nothing or the void. Pizarnik’s conflation of the abyss with a void covers over the abyss’s complex polysemy & ambiguous nature. For the abyss does not signify a mere lack of meaning. It signifies something more material. In this regard, the abyss is not synonymous with finitude. It is rather a paradox. It puts you face to face with finitude, but this finitude at the same time signals possibility by revealing itself to the passageway to infinitude, an absence (or lack) that can possibly lead to replenishment.
Another important question that I encounter in the face of the abyss concerns the restlessness of the self who negates finitude, namely the self who (counter)negates negation (whether we call it finitude or loss) & is agonizing in despair to gather herself resiliently. This is why the abyss designates passion rather than resignation…my intention is to probe the work of negation that displaces the self & her old world & gives birth to a new self at the same time.
The work of negative or the way negation works is complex. For it is neither a mere antithesis conducive to resignation, nor a magical remedy that heals the irreparable breach. Negation does not guarantee a triumphant & predictable outcome. Yet the power of negation lies in its evocation of the self as a relentless & insistent movement, the restless movement of struggle, becoming & dialectical mediation across the valley of the abyss. We no longer imagine the self as a determinate substance but as a force: a movement of incessant self-creation & unfolding.
The eternal movement, as Maurice Blanchot’s analysis of Rilke in The Space of Literature mentions:
In a poem, one of his last, Rilke says that interior space “translates things.” It makes them pass from one language to another, from the foreign, exterior language into a language which is altogether interior and which is even the interior of language, where language names in silence and by silence, and makes of the name a silent reality. “Space (which) exceeds us and translates things” is thus the transfigurer, the translator par excellence…this space is the poem’s space, where no longer is anything present, where in the midst of absence everything speaks, everything returns into the spiritual accord which is open and not immobile but the center of the eternal movement.
The fight continues. That is what Cel is faced with, and really, it was what Lis was faced with too — to exist in absolute zero and not collapse in its vacuity, but to embrace it as a potential space to exact one’s potential. The Sonnet Infinitesimal becomes a motherboard. A template, a system for others to make their own stories from, if they so choose. If they see the potential. The sonnet form provides just that, a form, an empty case — but Isou’s Sonnet offers us content, content to be chiseled through the exacting work of a subjective translation of lettrism, where each part is analyzed for its shape, and fits into the story in different ways.
Joyelle McSweeney says “let us take translation as a work of art, for translation works on extant materials & transforms them — into new, sculptural, legible shapes…it already has impossible properties, impossible doubleness, self-saturation, impossible borders.” Translation is recreation, some modes more radical than others. It gives this static eternal form, a new sense of movement. Lettrism for Isou was the language of one’s pure subjectivity via one’s own rune, thus a translation is a stone cut in the form of what came before. If chaos is a dancing star, translation is an imploding one. Matter is not created or destroyed, elements infinitesimally make new forms.
A key change in a song creates a new mood in its matter, a key change genetically can make a whole new person.
The impossible is only that which it is said & thought to not be able to do, because it simply hasn’t been done. Again, translation is the defeat of myopia, the expansion of thought, of what things could be, of what things are, of the things-themselves towards eternal forms that survive the objective world in toto. Things can always be different.
Humans, more specifically the masters of empire and capital have largely shorn the planet of its potential for renewal, they have essentially blocked it, it’s an obstruction. The only thing left in our way is the world they created, what was left behind, that which we understand as normal, a way of life many of us think we can’t live without, not knowing the damage to other people, not caring about a future that is anything but a paused contemporary. Is this really the best we could possibly do?
An improvement to the wind would be to break the money grubbing hands who want to sell it back to you.
And now, let’s end this with a toast for the young heiress of stillness, set in all her freeze frames:
“Te quieres ir lejos de acá,
no puedes ni quieres cambiar.
Lo cierto es que no tienes plan.
No tienes idea.
Se te viene encima el mundo,
No sabes cómo hacer,
gritando, cansado de
su preocupación infantil,
su relativismo moral,
y no sabes cómo decir que no,
decir que no.”
— Plugin | Decir que no
“When the fighters are all around
All the lovers are on the ground
No one will save you anymore
So what’s happening?
what you writing about, little girl?
Is it cars? Is it girls? Is it money?
— Lupe Fiasco | Fighters
“I just nod, I’ve never been so good at shaking hands
I live on the frozen surface of a fireball
Where cities come together, to hate each other in the name of sport
America, nothing is ever just anything
We’re so quick to point out our own flaws in others
Complicated mammals on the wings of robots
You were looking for your own voice, but in others
While I heard you, trapped in another dimension”
— Julian Casablancas | 11th Dimension
“Or was I something they can never believe?
Or is it something you can never achieve?
Is it beyond your means?
Is it inside your dreams?
Can it never come out cause it’s scared to
Unprepared to, too worried about the words of the people it’s weird to
You don’t want them to hear you
You just wish there was a door that would appear
That you can go disappear through”
— Lupe Fiasco | Fighters
“You’re going too fast and in the wrong direction
Laughing with eyes ablaze, a steady art we are…
Now I’m in this hole
Now I’m in this hole
But I’m sure I’m gonna die, though
You don’t know what you’re talking about my friend
Life ain’t that hard
At some point these days I have lost my way
(I can’t find the way back)
(I can’t find the road back)
I’ve lost my way?
— Poison The Well | Wrecking Itself Taking You With Me
“Well I’m feeling your pain
I was feeling the same
But I said I’d never feel that again”
— Lupe Fiasco | Fighters
“Why do I venture so slowly?”
–Interpol | New Town, Same Story
“Oh, fuck the ancient ways.
show no claim.”
–Interpol | Ancient Ways