1000 Words: Life Is with People by Atticus Lish

“What the work of art looks like isn’t too important.” Sol LeWitt


1. If I close my eyes, I cannot see Atticus Lish’s book, Life Is with People. If I listen to the book with my eyes closed, especially at night, I hear my wall heater. If I toss the book across my room, it usually hits something, makes a sound–after I open my eyes, I feel surprised to find it.

2. If I were blind, I feel like I wouldn’t know what I’d say about Atticus Lish’s Life Is with People. I would probably wonder about the book’s title. I would probably wonder what life is? And what people are? And I would probably try to imagine Atticus Lish, make associations, which might not be possible, with his name. But, I would also probably hold on to his book a little longer, really hold it, rub its corners and flip its pages, and maybe even put the book up to my nose. I would probably know something about dust and fabric.

3. Atticus Lish’s Life Is with People, published by Tyrant Books, does not feel transitory, hazardous, or illegal. It smells new.

4. Even though it is a concrete object produced for consumption and made in a traditional format, Life Is with People feels good when it is included in a stack of books of similar size. However, people fail to fight, argue, debate, or even seem to notice it when it is displayed by itself on the living room table in my apartment. If they do pick it up, they also put it down. But, I never hear them talk about it. Certain books silence people, I guess.

5. I don’t use my books as coasters. Even books I don’t care for anymore. I put books I don’t care for anymore on the street, but only after making a few phone calls to see if certain friends want them.

6. I wonder what Life Is with People would become, if it weren’t connected to images? If it set out to draw what it saw–and what it desired–without the use of lines, shadings, erasures and writing, but instead with the use of something else? Something really hard to imagine? I guess if I were blind, I would try to imagine a book that looked like what I could imagine: black, maybe.

7. One of the tenets of a certain kind of conceptualism is a distrust of optical experience as a basis for art. The more a drawing–or a series of drawings seemingly randomly organized but thematically related, as is the case of Life Is with People–relies on visual sensation, the lower its cognitive value. I enjoy what my friends tell me when I ask them to describe or read to me what’s inside Atticus Lish’s Life Is with People.

8. When I close my eyes, I am not haunted by Life Is with People. But, I imagine things associated with it: its weight, its scent, the sounds it makes when I turn its pages or drop it on the floor. Life Is with People doesn’t seem to be a ghost. But, you never know.

9. I make wishes about it. I want to be cut by its paper. I want to be hit across the face with its thickness and given a bloody nose that I can taste. I want to hear it break a window or be used to beat a cat to death. I want somebody to open it in the next room and scream. Or laugh. And keep on laughing until I start to laugh. Then when we realize we are both laughing, stop–and get really quiet.

10. I feel like the nature of an object is that it has no nature. Art seems to support that. I guess I wish I knew how the actual, physical book, Life Is with People, were made? Where did its paper come from? Which machines and people assembled it? How was it designed? Which programs were used? Where did the drawings come from and how did they get into the book Tyrant Books published? What were the ideas informing it? I try to imagine all the forces of history coming together to make this book–again and again, but microscopically different each time–just as all the forces of history come together each moment I breathe. Sometimes, when I face a window and close my eyes, I almost experience sex.

11. I wonder what the function is of the drawings in Atticus Lish’s Life Is with People? Of course, I feel like there are probably more than one. But, maybe, sometimes at different times–and for different people at different times–there’s only very temporarily one? I wonder if, provisionally, one of the functions of Life Is with People is the radical critique of institutions of art? Almost everyday I make art with my eyes closed that consists of nothing other than my ideas of it: meaningless, paradoxical, black, maybe.

12. Maybe one of the functions of Atticus Lish’s Life Is with People is traveling through space? As a way of making the visible invisible? Minimizing the distance–when I close my eyes tightly and make a wish–between the extraordinary, widening gap between me and the characters I’m told his drawings represent? Traveling. I’m doing that right now. Simply by closing my eyes. And listening. Life Is with People is such a quiet book that when I close my eyes and just listen to it: I hear the sounds of cars and trucks and buses humming outside my bedroom window.

13. Life Is with People is art because I say so.

14. I put a wig on Atticus Lish’s book Life Is with People. I circled its cover with red lipstick and perfumed its pages. I asked my girlfriend, Alexandra, to walk me to Booksmith on Haight. After we entered the book store, I asked Alexandra to take me to the poetry section. With her help, I placed the book on the top shelf. She laughed and said, “Okay.” I said, “Okay, now let’s go.” She said, “Okay.” And laughed. We hurried out of there. “How did it look?” “Like a fucked up Barbie. Like a stupid, fucked up Barbie.” “Sweet.”

Guest Post: Noah Cicero: Thoughts on Justin Taylor’s The Gospel of Anarchy

The Gospel of Anarchy has already been reviewed by major places like the New York Times, I don’t think there is any need to give a real review of the book. Here are my thoughts, while reading it:

Thought 1. When I was 20-years-old, in 2001, I spent a summer in Eugene, Oregon. Eugene was full of pamphlets advertising everything from lectures being given by the University of Oregon, lesbian-only poetry readings, and things about the local anarchist group. I have always loved politics, so I walked down to the local anarchist house. You could just walk right in, no one cared, it had a name like Fishgut, but I don’t remember the name now. I walked in and found five dirty looking kids in their early 20s sitting around doing nothing. I didn’t look cool at all, I wasn’t wearing black, my hair was washed and I had a job. They had a small room with books that you could borrow. I sat in the room and read through zines and looked at the endless amount of books by Marx, Lenin and Howard Zinn. I gave them five dollars and they let me take some zines. Even though they were very inviting, I didn’t like them. They seemed unwashed and not existential or alienated or anything. They seemed like lost children.

Thought 2. I remember AOL chatrooms and trading for porn. Those were horrible times in internet porn.

Thought 3. The Parker character is some anarchist messiah, which is really funny. I have always thought that anarchists were just Christians from circa 80AD.

Thought 4. I have met political kids like this my whole life, they don’t know what they are talking about, they don’t care what they are talking about, they just want to talk. The scene where the girl doesn’t know what a comptroller is, blew my mind. Here Taylor shows that he understands his subject with a sense of maturity, that politics is way more complex than just yelling about “tearing down the system.” Because even if you tear down the system, you have to build a new one, and the new one will require comptrollers, accountants, welders, tax brackets, revenue services to collect those taxes, schools, everything that goes in schools from chemicals to dry erase boards. Running a government is no joke, it takes a lot of work, done by a large amount of people who have specific skills and training. It can’t just be done by a college dropout who has a good weed connection.

Thought 5. I liked how Taylor involved sex into the initiation process. That anarchism is like a cult, and if you get in, you can get laid. Which is awesome for 19-to-21-old kids because that is what that age group wants, to get laid.

Thought 6. I was 19 once, everything seemed amazing and bright. I wanted to experience everything: sex, drugs, music, travel, new ideas about politics, new philosophies never mentioned in my hometown, new new new.

Thought 7. Taylor vs. Cometbus. I think if you have read Cometbus, then this book has a different light to it. Cometbus thinks the wild life is cool, that having a house full of weirdos is generally exciting. Taylor doesn’t take this view. His view is that anarchism is not a movement at all, but something 19-to-22-year-old kids do to get laid and gather new life experiences. Then eventually if they are smart, they go back to college and get their lives together. Cometbus, on the other hand, prefers this existence as a way of life.

Thought 8. By writing about 20-year-old anarchists and how oblivous they are about what politics really is, Taylor makes a strange point: he shows that Americans in general don’t know what politics is, that most of America are like these kids: running around, expounding ideas they don’t understand and don’t even care about knowing. One could look at the teabaggers and see how a whole group of people became obsessed with stopping a public option, a simple device that would allow low-income Americans to get health care. I recently witnessed a 24-year-old woman tell her parents, if you vote Republican and the Republicans want to take away Obamacare, you are voting for me to lose my health care, her parents didn’t care. And then there are some of the OWS Protesters who want free college. I understand the societal necessity of having more nurses and engineers, but for sculpture and art history majors, seriously? I think what Taylor is trying to show is that there is a disconnect between the details and application. Yes, we would all love to end the wars and our constant interference with the middle-east, but what if we brought all the troops home, gas prices might be 10 dollars a gallon the next day. Politics is no joke, it involves dealing with a lot of evil people, doing evil things, and a lot of specialists doing very specific work.

Guest Post: Noah Cicero: Review of Everything’s Fine by Socrates Adams

In America we would call the lead character Ian of Everything’s Fine ‘work douche.’ Ian is a person that loves his job, that believes in the company he works for, and believes as the novel says, “My company has the desires and needs of its staff at heart.” The lead character reminds me of the people I have worked with at restaurants over the years: fellow employees that got paid less than 10 dollars an hour but still worshiped the company they worked for. There was a cook at one place who seriously wore a Red Lobster coat around, and was very proud of it. Red Lobster gives out rings when you reach 20 years and I have seen people wear those rings with pride. I have seen low ranked employees or as Socrates Adams calls them “tiny shit heads” go up to the bosses and ask about other restaurants, talk deeply with the managers about the remodeling that is going to occur, about the new meal promotions, and how Red Lobster will advertise them. The Ian character is very real, they exist, we all know them.

Ian is that human being that grows up in a highly technocratic developed democracy that ends up working for a giant corporation with a huge bureaucratic structure, but this is the fate of most of us, we don’t end up farming, hunting, or doing any primitive activities that require any sense of adventure or human spirit. We are forced by circumstance and the need for money to beg giant corporations to let us work for them, and if we don’t fit into the mode of ‘good worker’ we are sent to the “tiny shithead department.”

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Guest Post: Carrie Hunter–J/J Hastain and the Biomimetic Unicorn

In a womb-shaped wormhole, j/j hastain examines postmodernities of gender through the central iconography of the unicorn. If a wormhole is phallic, a womb-shaped phallus situates us at the beginning of a new gendering. Here we encounter the erotic as path, as activism; birth into the new virginity. The earth moves, “a tectonic-mid,” not letting the new arise so much as a concurrency with it (17). The omen, the portent “turns psychic roughage/ into emotional and physical/ alcoves” (19). We are slowly introduced to the unicorn, not the well-known unicorn of classical myths, but as a new unicorn born out of a new site of gender depolarizations. Here we have the classical view of feminine purity mixed with the phallic horn. Amongst the multiple representations of gender depolarizations, we see the “femme swagger,” (23) “female semen,” (54) and “the vascularity of surplus/ and need” (58). How the vein is both phallic and womb-reminiscent as it carries one thing to the other is receptacle-like.

“like plasma


savory gelatin” (60)

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Newfound Footage from Stephen Elliott’s Shining Postscript and the Politics of Reading “Adrien Brody”

“It never ceases to startle me that a brilliant thinker can be such a bad writer. It challenges some of my preconceptions about language and thought.”—Rob Horning, “Exhaustion of generic raw material”

Frank Hinton would be the first to tell you that I adore Steve Roggenbuck. Not only did his star rise as fast as Tao Lin’s—he emerged on the online alt-lit scene like an explosion—and his universe is still expanding. The only two writers of whom I can think that have matched his output are Roxane Gay and Blake Butler, (I see xTx everywhere, too). Not that it’s a race or anything, or that we should feel the compunction of competition. We’re in this together more than we know—hence the hostilities whenever someone emerges and receives a little bit of exposure. Still, to think that Roggenbuck has done it—and continues to do it—without recourse or dependency on any of the online lit scene’s publishing machinations is astounding. While poetry editor last fall at Eleven Eleven: A Journal of Literature & Art (edited by Hugh Behm-Steinberg, whose poem in decomP you should read here), I solicited Roggenbuck. He was positively thrilled, expressed how he always wanted to be in the journal, but quickly became, almost innocently, concerned about which poems he should send me.

It never happened, of course. I was exhausted writing a novella, finishing graduate school, and trying to start a career—as a teacher no less. And I let things slip. Neither of us got back to each other and by the time the term was over, I could care less. But this is the other thing I like about Steve Roggenbuck: his politics. To be honest, I don’t know what Roggenbuck means when he calls himself post-corporate, but I like it. He seems to live up to it, too—all his work is free and available on his website, and a few other places—and that’s not because it’s not wanted. It’s because Roggenbuck has decided it’s better that way, that there is value in refusing the online alt-lit’s universal twitch toward corporatization. Besides, I like Steve Roggenbuck because watching him at the Alt-Lit Gossip Awards was better than watching cable. Satanic cats, fuck yeah. At a time when certain writers still hold fast to the misunderstood Warholian I-want-to-be-a-corporation mentality, Roggenbuck represents the resistance. You should read his poetry.

Stephen Elliott‘s fiction has not always been, for me, the brightest sun in the galaxy. Although there are moments when it does shine—I almost always seem to know what’s going to happen next. And that’s okay. Predictability provides a certain kind of comfort. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t want to bask in the glow of Elliott’s inconsistent wattage or lurk around in his writing’s shadows—which, I wish there were more of.

I do.

Stephen Elliott’s writing—for better and worse—has informed my writing. I mean, Stephen Elliott has basically made a career out of writing about sex, drugs, murder—in broad daylight. He’s like the straight guy’s Dennis Cooper. Which is one of the reasons I read him, even though I’m gay. In fact, I have read almost everything he’s ever written. But let me be clear: writing sex, drugs, and murder, journalistically—the way Stephen Elliott writes it—straight-forward, tight, masculine, slightly twisted, bright (like Stephen Elliott, himself) is a major, minor accomplishment. And that’s okay. For the relatively heterosexual people living in the Bay Area thirsting for relatively straight literary porn (and for submissive men specifically), he’s pretty much all we got (and let me be clear: I’m not submissive, but there are moments when it’s nice to dream). Besides, his male characters give a whole new meaning to the term submission policy. (I promise at least one porn link every essay.)

On top of that, I look forward to watching Cherry, the film he will be directing.

Like I said before, it is nice to receive attention. Even when that attention is tacit. Even when it’s negative. Even when that attention is brought to my attention by somebody I wish I knew better. As you may know, my name is not big-time. I have not generated a sex scandal or written about all the girls I’ve sodomized (coming soon) or how I never—and I mean never—use condoms. Or that I may be the only person on the planet who can claim to have had sex with Kathy Acker and Peter Sotos—not at the same time, unfortunately. (That’s right, I’m name-dropping.) But, when I do decide to write about it, I will expect Farrar, Straus & Giroux to come knocking at my door with a book deal. The formula is simple: describe act objectively, respond to act honestly, generate scandal, repeat. If I learned anything from the most current streak of literary minimalists, it is that.

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Marie Calloway, My Lover (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Just Love Tao Lin)

I recently wrote an article about failure. The text received moderate attention. I was glad about that. I like attention.

I also like pornography. I watch porn almost every night. I’m not joking. When I am involved with someone sexually, I watch porn less.

I have certain fetishes. For one, I love acne. When I see a woman with acne on her face, I pursue her. When I am involved with a woman who has acne, I like to pop the pimples with my teeth and suck. I like to tongue the scars left behind by severe acne. I like to whip acne-covered tits to watch the zits bleed. I cannot justify my lust for acne. I will not defend it. My lust for acne—a personal one—and my representation of it here—a public one—operate within two different domains of logic, perhaps. More on that later maybe.

About a month ago I received a facebook message from Marie Calloway. I am no independent literary superstar. If Jimmy Chen developed a graph of an online literary universe I would be somewhere furthest from the binary-star solar system that is governed by Blake Butler and Tao Lin.

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Our Natural Bent for Destruction and the Rights to Failure

“Is there an art that is dangerous? Yes. It is that art which upsets the conditions of life.”–Charles Baudelaire.

What are the conditions of life? Simply put: that which sustains it.

Does art sustain life? Does literature? Does poetry? No. None of those practices are required to sustain life. And we are better off for it. For who would want to rely on failure for sustenance? And yet, that is precisely what we have today. Failure. And lots of it. And that’s a good thing–for the arts and for life. Precisely because the very conditions that sustain life require failure in the realm of the arts.

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We would gladly have repainted the trees and the sky

Peter Greenway’s film A Zed & Two Noughts (A.K.A. Z00) [1985] begins with a swan crashing into a car, killing two people. The driver survives, but lives the remainder of the film as an amputee having lost her right leg. By film’s end, the amputee decides to remove her one remaining leg and falls in love with another double amputee.

Writing is an act of disability

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