When I first saw this video (https://vimeo.com/43618619) and read the story about Eterna Cadencia publishing books in an ink that disappears twenty days after it is exposed to light and air, I was angry. American culture already has given itself over to valuing speed and instant gratification over reflexivity, patient thought, and stillness. We need to slow down, not speed up. Reading takes patience and creativity; in fact, reading takes as much patience and creativity as writing does. The act of reading deserves devotion and time, a slowing down, a time outside of the time of daily living.
Susan Sontag repeatedly argued that everything that speeds up either the creation or the experience of art must be avoided. At the beginning of the 20th century, Walter Benjamin feared that modern mechanisms for making and reproducing art would speed-up the production of art. He clearly saw Warhol over the Alps. Benjamin did not, as is so often said of him, simply fear the loss of the aura of art, because of the means of reproduction. He celebrated the potential of rapid reproduction and circulation, especially in film, but he did not feel the same about speeding up the production of art. Benjamin feared people would make art carelessly, and that such art would only be able to express empty or superficial values. He feared artists would give in to the demands of production, and not devote enough of their own time, their own patience, to creating art that challenged our understanding and our values and, by doing so, create or deepen values. He worried that art would be made quickly in order to keep up with the demands of reproduction. Art would be reduced to commerce.
Hollywood narratives have come to rely heavily on a style of intensified or hyper continuity editing, because the films themselves are empty. Tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The editing is so quick that a viewer cannot engage, think, or reflect; imagine how uncomfortable it is for an American audience to endure the intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and aesthetic pain of a long take. The long take demands something from the viewer. But a viewer raised on consumption can only consume without thought. In movie theaters across this great land of ours, viewers open their legs and spread wide their arms and whisper: “Do me, Hollywood, do me.” The editing style of most Hollywood films is designed for an audience with Attention Deficit Disorder. Such an editing style is a form of distraction, designed specifically to prevent thoughtful engagement.
For the past twenty years, I have been working on ways to slow down readers of my work. To create moments of prayer with my sentences. In my collaboration with Stephanie Sauer on Dream Memoirs of a Fabulist, readers need to become intimate with our book, with the sentences, the images. The book falls apart, becomes naked by the touch of the reader, and readers also become naked and vulnerable in their practice of reading.
So reading of this ink that disappears after 20 days, once it is exposed to light, initially upset me.
But then I began thinking more fully of a different kind of potential in using this disappearing ink for publishing books. The intention of the publishers, Eterna Cadencia, is to get people to read books by new authors, instead of merely placing such books on the shelf, waiting to be read later, or to be forgotten about altogether.
But what if this ink were used to print books like Twilight? (By the way, I believe that any parent who buys their daughter this book should be reported to Child Protective Services because of the harm this book can do to a daughter’s sense of identity. This series of books can be (well, is) purely evil for daughters who are too often raised to consume. Misogynistic ideology harms our daughters. We need to make this more visible. Wake up. Fight against this. Perhaps, our daughters should be raised on Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School. (This is merely a suggestion and is not endorsed by the American Psychological Association on Parenting or any other parenting advocacy agencies.)
Back to the ink. So imagine this: Twilight is exposed to light and air, and the words disappear! Ideally, they disappear before anyone has time to read them. And by the light infecting the book, the book actually then performs the vampire mythology. And, most importantly, your daughter now has blank pages, so now she can write her own book. She can create her life, instead of falling prey to the shackles of a culture that wants to deny her existence; that is, unless she is in a relationship with a boy or longing to be in a relationship with a boy so she can have an identity.
And then I thought, better yet: what if we use a kind of what I would call a Carravagian ink, a pentimento-effect ink, that allows evidence of a work printed beneath the apparent book to surface. So imagine using this kind of ink to publish the pathetic, evil, misogynistic Fifty Shades of Grey. (A book typed (it was not written) to be bought by the women who gave their daughters Twilight, talk about a built-in market.) As the ink of that piece of trite narrative fades under erasure, imagine Kathy Acker’s Don Quixote emerging, bleeding through Fifty Shades of Grey! (That's right, such a thought gives me so much joy that even I will use an exclamation mark!)
I mean, seriously, imagine how beautiful that would be. As Fifty Shades of Grey fades into the nothingness that it was to begin with, the beauty and true power of Acker’s writing takes over. Imagine the look on the faces of those bourgeois women, sitting in their comfortable chairs, sipping tea, safely reading Fifty Shades of Grey when Acker’s writing emerges. Then imagine how these women would begin to re-imagine romance and desire. …
(And by the way, if you read Fifty Shades of Grey, shame on you. How is it even humanly possible to read more than one sentence of this book? And why did this woman, who claims to have written this book, do this to language? What did language ever do to her that she would infantilize and brutalize language in the way she did with each sentence? And if you bought this book, all you did was encourage her to keep writing and publishers to keep publishing that kind of trite. Shame on you. Why, oh why, did you do this?...And by the way if you read it because you have no imagination of your own and wanted to “spice” up your sex life, contact me, and I will give you a tour of your own kitchen, or of Home Depot, instead of spending money on the paraphernalia marketed around Fifty Shades of Grey.)
The true evil of Twilight and of Fifty Shades (aside from the horrible writing) is that they appear “innocent”, harmless (ideology, after all, only has power when it is invisible). And Fifty Shades claims to be “erotica”, not pornography. (Watching people read this book in public, though, is obscene and deeply disturbing. America needs to create safe spaces for those of us who have been traumatized by seeing someone reading these books.)
It disturbs me how parents (and occasionally Senator Helms) want to censor books or films because of a word or an image that they conveniently take out of context because that single moment is troubling to them, but these same helicoptering parental narcissists feel comfortable exposing their children to an ideology that is far more damaging because, to them, it appears innocent. The first sentence of every Idiots Guide to Parenting should be: Do not give stupid books to your daughters just because you are too distracted with taking selfies of your vain face, instead of committing to the responsibility of actually raising your child to be an adult.
Still, some “parents” will say that Twilight is harmless. After all, it does not use nasty words or include images that offend; instead, the “book” merely uses romantic images that destroy the very soul of our existence. We need to question why people are more offended by certain words and/or certain images that are policed (thus protecting us from evil, as defined mostly by men wearing white shirts, red ties, and blue suits), and why these same police allow the ideology embedded in these two books to circulate freely (thus indoctrinating our daughters to their evil).
Kathy Acker in her search for love, for true love, for pure love, uses words that risk offending and unnerving readers, and she gives us images that have power and depth and that may perhaps make us feel uncomfortable. Because Acker desires to escape the narrative of romance (something that Twilight and Fifty Shades are deeply entrenched in and can never break free of because these two writers (and their “readers”) lack courage and conviction), Acker has the courage to look directly into the heart and soul of America, without flinching (Akira Kurosawa’s definition of a true artist is one who never looks away).
Acker, as a person and as an artist, wants (I know she has changed tense, but for me Kathy will never change tense) to escape the narrative of romance that allows capital to continue to use and control women. Twilight and Fifty Shades, in order to sell and be sold, use and control women; they simplify women and coerce women into weakness. (They perpetuate a myth that allows capital to continue to operate on our daughters and on all of us. They continue to create the myth of a daughter only wanting to need.)
Acker’s writing, say in Don Quixote, is an honest and painful quest for love, the love that escapes the narrative of romance. Acker believes in love, not romance. I, too, still believe in love, not romance. (There is a difference: Romance kills, Love enlivens.) Romance as a narrative is not simply a lie; it is more pernicious than that. Romance is a carefully crafted narrative to destroy love, to make you fear the intimacy of love.
The narrator of Acker’s Don Quixote says: “What I wanted most was love. What I want most, even as I am dying, is love. …I would have this love which is neither control nor being controlled…She conceived of the most insane idea that any woman can think of. Which is to love.” Acker gave our daughters pirate maps of desire, of hope, of dreams, and ways for making this real.
Wake up. Don’t believe the hype. And by the way you are not too busy to read that book or to create stillness in your life for reflection. You are too distracted. Capital needs to keep you distracted; otherwise you will become creative and you will find ways to live your life instead of the life that capital needs you to live. Fight the power.
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