John Bloomberg-Rissman and ‘In the House of the Hangman’

The following is taken from an e-mail exchange with John about his ‘In the House of the Hangman’ which is a fascinating and very much ongoing sequence:

JA-I’m currently carrying around ‘House of the Hangman’ on my Kindle and am finding it really hard to put down- I think it’s an important piece of work and I’d like to blog about it once I’ve read some more. I’m especially interested in appropriation and the criteria we use (if any) to select what is appropriated and the way we elect to ‘frame’ these selections. It is remarkable and I’d be very interested to know more about your practice in this regard.

JB-R– I’m very happy to hear that you are getting along well with In the House of the Hangman. You write: “I’m especially interested in appropriation and the criteria we use (if any) to select what is appropriated and the way we elect to ‘frame’ these selections. It is remarkable and I’d be very interested to know more about your practice in this regard.”

I don’t know how much of what follows is repetition, so apologies in advance. But.

It wasn’t until I began to “abandon” my lyric self as the almost-sole voice in my poems and to include appropriated and/or reworked material that I began to come into my own, I think. It’s not just that I’m not that interesting a person, it’s that the lyric self occupies too small a world (I’m speaking of me, now, not generalizing). I don’t know if you read Sina Queyras’ recent Lyric Conceptualism manifesto, but I see a bit of myself in that. My art is a bastardized and dirty mix of self-and-other (based on the principle that my self is just one of the others, and it need not be silenced any more than anyone else need be). So the criteria I use is a bit of a mix of “algorithm and contingency” to steal the title of Robert Jackson’s blog. The “algorithm” side is a combo of what shows up in my RSS feed every day (and I have shoved lots of sites into that feed for just this purpose – there are political sites, and art sites, and poetry sites, and science sites, etc – whatever will bring the the micro and macro news of the day). I add to that what comes to me via links from the sites in the RSS feed, email, via the books I’m reading, by what I hear on tv, what’s on my mind (current young radical british poetry, e.g.) (yesterday it was an old guy, Bill Griffiths – I was reading his Lion Man book …) etc etc. But it’s all happening in real time, meaning everything that goes into the bit of ITH I’m working on is from that day’s “feed”. The contingency aspect is this: I have given myself the freedom to choose whatever seems to be “of use” from that feed. What do I mean by “of use”? Well, I’m trying to tell the “tale of my tribe” so to speak – what it’s like to live these days. I think I told you that the title of ITH comes from Adorno, “But in the house of the hangman one should not speak of the noose, one might be suspected of harboring resentment.” He wrote that in the 50s, after returning to Germany. I think that it’s true now everywhere. So we all live in that house. And I am determined to speak my resentment. So what I choose is “of use” for that purpose. Tho of course I’m not an idiot, and I know that whine whine whine for even 2 pages would bore the hell out of anyone, so I try to hold a very wide sense of resentment, which encompasses all kinds of tones, etc. This is one reason the poets you write about are so important. They have found ways to carry the weight of living in these times without killing the reader with it. “Instruct and delight”, as the Augustans said. I don’t know about instruct, and I can’t be sure I delight, but I always recall that I’m not trying to cure the patient, just report on her/his condition. My ultimate audience, by the way, is twofold: one, my contemporaries; two: my grandsons, so that when they inherit hell from us, they will be able to say, “Grandpa knew it would be like this, sort of. He wasn’t a complete idiot.” I have found that some sources that come over my feed are used more frequently than others. That’s because what they say is on the right wavelength. The whole thing will be comprised of 2012 “sections”, which aren’t really sections, they’re just that day’s work. It’ll all be blended into one. That’s how I’m writing it. And 2012 is for obvious and quite terrifying and humorous reasons (ah, my people, the things you believe, and the things you ignore. I could weep!) (that was meant to be extravagant!)

I think that goes some way towards beginning to answer your questions. I’d like to know more about what you mean by frame. All I can this is “how do I decide what goes where?” Well, I just pretend I’m Hannah Hoch redecorating the Sistine Chapel …

JA-I think we need a much longer discussion on the ‘House’ but I’m grateful for what you’ve said which intrigues me even more. What interests me at this stage of my reading is the way that you present or frame the appropriated material and how much of this is deliberately undercut by the authorial voice- this might not make sense but I am really interested in notions of authenticity and whether ‘straight’ appropriation automatically diminishes our very partial sense of the real. It also strikes me that you’re compiling a narrative in real time, I’m certainly reading the material as a record of my recent past- was that part of your intention?

JB-RYes we need a longer discussion. So ask away, anything. It’s kind of hard for me to understand what it looks/feels etc like to its readers. After all, to me it’s entirely transparent! (Just because I was there when I made it, so to speak). (Which doesn’t make it the last bit transparent, really)

You write: “What interests me at this stage of my reading is the way that you present or frame the appropriated material and how much of this is deliberately undercut by the authorial voice- this might not make sense but I am really interested in notions of authenticity and whether ‘straight’ appropriation automatically diminishes our very partial sense of the real.”

I have real problems distinguishing between the authentic and the inauthentic. To paraphrase a Wolfgang Tillmans book title, if one thing is authentic everything is. And vice-versa. I tend to lean towards this is as real as it gets round here, in the Simulacrum. Which, contra Baudrillard, I don’t see as a new mediated invention.I think we’ve lived within a mediated simulacrum since the day we became conscious. It’s just sped up now to the point where the focus is so blurred we notice it.

I certainly hope that what you call straight appropriation does indeed diminish “our very partial sense of the real”.* As I wrote somewhere (either in ITH or its predecessor, Flux, Clot & Froth), “I can’t make up this shit”. On the other hand, I hope it keeps us aware of what we’re surrounded by and bombarded with.

As far as the authorial voice “deliberately undercutting” things, that’s where my anger comes in. As Hans Richter wrote about dada, “We wanted to stay human!” I wouldn’t use the word stay, perhaps, maybe I’d substitute become. Or, no, some word that combines the two, stay and become. And we can talk about what I mean by human. Let’s leave it for this minute as when your daughter, say, gets to the end of her life, and lies down in her deathbed, she can say and mean ‘I’d take that ride again.’

You also write: “It also strikes me that you’re compiling a narrative in real time, I’m certainly reading the material as a record of my recent past- was that part of your intention?” Yes, definitely. I want every reader to say, yes, I lived thru this. And this is what it was like, god help us.

*I should also add that a lot of what you call straight appropriation isn’t. I do a lot of mixing and mangling of my source material, tho a lot of it indeed straight. Was that clear to you in reading? That sometimes my sampled material is not cut out on a straight line?

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2 responses to “John Bloomberg-Rissman and ‘In the House of the Hangman’

  1. My bad, John. Griffiths book is Lion Man, not Lion King. I’ve od’d, apparently, on Disney!

  2. Amended, thought it was a bit strange but…..

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