Dear reader, are you an original person or an unreal one? Such a question may sound nonsensical, but it is exactly the question that American culture asks the immigrant. The immigrant is a fake citizen, not a “real” American like the Tea Partiers, but a bad actor with can’t quite work the accent, an undercover jihadi terrorist whose birth certificate is a forgery. And the immigrant is also utterly real, the heir to an honorable “authentic” tradition that shames the rest of us fraudulent Americans, we boring white capitalists who are materially wealthy but spiritually possess only tolerance and unbelief. It is the immigrant who still glows numinous with origin, who is still the progenitor of the ways of the “old country,” typically imagined through the lens of early Twentieth Century European immigration. We are more familiar with this real/fake divide in another less obviously political realm: that of Western tradition of art and literature. You might define this tradition as essentially an OCD freakout about whether art is real or fake. Think of mimesis in literature, truth in Platonic philosophy, and photographic realism in painting. Johannes Göransson’s poem, Haute Surveillance, combines all these meanings of pure, fake, authentic, corrupt, synthetic. The poem is an evil Leaves of Grass—not a welcoming cosmic paean to all American citizens, but a nihilistic porno where the pure and the fake copulate with a sordid glory. By real, Göransson means: children burning in bombed buildings, the bodies of foreigners, sperm and blood, traumatized soldiers strangling their wives. By fake, he means: film sets, stunt doubles, poetry. You can see this combo in how he depicts America: America is not an emancipatory pluralistic haven, but an atavistic theater of war, brutally real and, as Baudrillard has written, as simulated as a video game.
Against the “taxidermy museum” of high culture, Göransson champions art as pure corruption: 1) the damaged image, unreal artifice, paparazzi virtuality—all of which authentically represents our times; and 2) an immoral purifying violence, the kind of physical sadism that Artaud said would shatter the false reality that, he wrote, “lies like a shroud over our perceptions.” (I plagiarized that last phrase from Wikipedia.) And in this way, the foreigner is a snuff film actor, fake, real and the subject of violence. Haute Surveillance imagines immigrants as self-documenting artists, tourists who “always film themselves with tacky plastic video cameras,” and primitive bodies that “must be entered into the pageant as objects to be classified and quantified.” Consider the Orwellian and Derridian subtext to the words “undocumented immigrant,” a phrase that implies that immigrant rights will win simply if all immigrants are indexed, surveilled and quantified. Göransson is less concerned by whether art or a person is pure than with the nativist, cultivating connotations of a word like “purity.” Both art museums and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement are monsters that classify and purify. For Göransson, himself an immigrant from Sweden, “The foreigner is a perverted virgin”—both impure American and a pure body.
Excerpt: Haute Surveillance
When I’m petted by a nurse, when I’m having my blood drawn I inevitably imagine new fashions for immigrants. The blouse will be skin-tight and most postures will look like a scarecrow’s. A bicyclist will find me in the morning. The ads will be exposed to the snow. The tag line will be: “Feel at home, screamer.”
The sales will be overwhelming.
I go to my high-school friend’s funeral and put a postcard in the coffin: “Wish you were here in the belly of the slaughtered whale.”
He goes to my funeral and leaves a note that says: “You weren’t here, you didn’t see anything.”
Question: Do foreigners always film themselves with tacky plastic video cameras?
Question: Do foreigners know how fantasize like bling blong blang.
Question: Has a foreigner ever asked you for direction out of the mess room?
Question: Have you ever shot a foreigner?
All of the foreigners were shot because of their incestuous relationships on the set. It was a horrible set: the blowtorch looked tacky and the walls were too soft. I don’t ever want to go back there to see what happened in the heat and the way the confetti got so wet and the skin was so yucky. I was so blond, I was your brother.
All of The Shining was shot with sets. The snow was salt. The cameramen and the camerawomen wore stilts as they ran through the snow. It was 110 degrees inside the soundstage. The air was saturated with gasoline fumes. The cameramen and camerawomen wore gas-masks as the ran through the rooms chasing the little boy. There were antenae in the walls. The production crew built up an entire hotel inside. Nothing was fake.
It was The Real Thing.
That is what I have always wanted to create. The first time I got close was with In the Penal Colony because I made it with a stick and a stone and an orchestra of genius children.
But I got even closer with a mute girl and my ki-ko-pe body.
My prettiest trousers were down along my ankles and my scotch-guard crown fell on the ground.
This is how we reproduce a ki-ko-pee body: every mouth must bite, every eye must hurt, every spasm must infect the image.
That’s what they say on TV.
Also, they say I’m a moron for the way I went along with the Starlet’s experiments with ki-ko-pee bodies.
The Parable of the Ki-Ko-Pe Body: People have accused me of plagiarizing my films. The parables must have been created by a teenage girl, my accusers say. A girl with a cutting disorder or a virgin with fantasies of the Third World. Or an anorexic.
This is the first lesson in haute surveillance: Always write like you’re a teenage virgin.
Always reach for the gun.
Gasoline, cannibalism and sweets
Do you own this place? Did you invent it for the Cancer?
Today I cleaned my cadaver and painted the nails red.
An homage to patricide.
A stalemate in Grand Hotel Chasm.
“The Black Night of Godlessness”
(A smelly smouldering wick is left behind.)
There are many reasons why the expresident’s antibody was brought here on a bier. He thinks it is because the children burned inside buildings. Bombed buildings. Art. Sand. Femur-strands. The looted museum of his memory. All of it continues to burn.
He thinks it’s on account of his wife, who wants me to teach Art to the shellshocked soldiers.
I think it’s because of the economy.
What are you talking about, says the president.
A bunch of shit, I admit. Whenever someone says it’s the economy, they’re talking about Art.
You were brought here for Art, I tell him.
Culture is a taxidermy museum but the horses are beautiful and the letter openers disinfected.
The cum on my face tickles as I type these pages out.
The Foreigner Body: Must be entered into the pageant as objects to be classified and quantified. And it must be banged up. Banged. Bang. That was the sound of a door. The foreigner’s body must be a door. It must be shot with the finest surveillance equipment. It must be shot. It must be numb with cum.
I love Kleist
When the guards asked me all those questions (Is your body a faggot? Do you speak radio? Why are your spasms so infantile? What would happen if we pulled this plastic bag off your head? How is your wham-blam-dunk?) I could barely make out what they said. I denied everything, not because I liked hearing my voice underwater, but I knew that was what the kidnappers wanted me to say. They loved the way I said No. They could listen to me say No all day long and far into the night. This was a test. They knew I was up to the task at hand. They even removed the bag from my head.
I don’t want to defend abortions on moral grounds.
I believe in abortions because I believe in Art.
When the nurse and I watched the black widow walking in a funeral march, I could hear the nurse breathing.
She looked magical.
This book is for my nurse.
But the eyes are for the widow.
The Widow Party: I wrote a play called The Widow Party. It was performed at Links Hall in Chicago last May. It’s about two widows – one black and one white. The black one speaks through a little tape-player she carries on her chest, the white one was played by Patrick D. He gets killed over and over. To get his act right we wrapped his penis in cellophane. The black widow was played in black-face by Jen K., who recently collected the favorite sayings of all the soldiers dead in Iraq. My favorite one is “at the end of the day a wreck is still just a girl.” It came from an army doctor from Memphis, TN. My second favorite was “You love your country like you love your dog. When it’s over you bury it in the backyard and pray that the badgers will keep out.” That one came from a young man from Sunflower, MS. That’s a town in which I drink champagne out of my mother’s hands. My black mother who bleeds. My white mother who treats me with shards and shakes me tonight as I enter into New Jerusalem on a stolen horse.
There’s no greater cliché than a soldier masturbating into a glass of champagne. There is no greater cliché than a mother.
I have seen the photographs the Starlet took. They have been circulating over the Internet and handed around at protests. There is the footage of the naked man being bit by dogs, the image of the heap of naked man piled into a pyramid, the footage of a man with a hood over his head and electrical wires strapped to his hands, the image of the man with Disney mask on his face and on his genitals, the image of a woman puking into a meat hell. I think I know why but I’m not telling. Atrocity kitsch.
All the students claim they have brothers or sisters or uncles who’s been to the war and when they return they try to strangle their spouses at night in their sleep. It appears the war is connected to the bedroom in a cliché way. But those pathetic sprawling bodies in the dark: those are the bodies with which I want to populate this skin flick.
There are so many soldiers in the mansion that they have been given a room of their own. It’s a large room but there are so many soldiers that they have to cram them in on small cots. They’re here to be decontaminated, to have the violence from the theater of war rinsied off them like swans. It’s not going so well. It seems every day a soldier kils another soldier with some sharp object. I’ve been instructed to teach them how to write poetry in order to direct their violence to something more constructive. Father Voice-Over doesn’t realize that Art is a Violence. And vice versa. There is already so much Art in these muscular bodies, I cannot prevent them from expressing it.
Tonight I want to make a movie about skin.
I want to make it for the enemy.
To lure him out.
I can’t hear a thing in here.
Media makes stunt doubles.
This poem for example is about mine.
He wears a wig to his assassination.
The erotics of writing reminds me of the needle on a record player.
Of all the movies I made with the Starlet, my favorite was our mumble-version of Hiroshima Mon Amour. Or the Jacobean piece we filmed in a shooting range. The clothes I wore were positively repulsive by the time she was finished with me. My body was covered with wax. I played the part of the wax figures. She played the part of the slaughter. It was also a mumble movie. It was hard to hear anything in the ricochet.
Miss World: This novel is a spell, but I can’t help it if this novel turns into a pile-up of disgusting bodies and glorifications of black-outs.
Whenever I come to the soldiers’ barrack, they are engaged in some kind of art production: bodies in fetal lamb poses for example, or snuff videos of daddy, ouch-ouch-it-hurts, corny dances (like the hostage crisis, the twist, the pork out, the pile up, the photographs). They love to wear Mickey Mouse masks when they hurt each other like children. Don’t pork me up, Mickey, I hear one man cry as I slam the door. I can’t help them, I can just hope to contain them. I need to keep them apart from the anti-abortion protestors and the actors. Swine hunt! Swine hunt! I hear from the inside as I swiftly lock the door.
The expresident wants every body naked. And he wants no sound. It should be deaf in here, he says, and then he points out that there are stains on my clothes and that the letter opener is making an awful racket in my mouth. I’m a dangerous man when I get around the wrong instruments. Milk and blood, milk and blood, I think to myself. It’s always this way after a riot.
Sometimes virginity is a state, like concussion or starvation.
Other times it’s a visual phenomenon.
The world looks clean and violent.
A foreigner is always a perverted virgin.
Throw the foreigner’s body in the backseat.
Have you ever worked at a meat plant?
Watch me read the messy transcriptions.
Johannes Göransson is the author of Haute Surveillance (2013) and Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate (2011), both from Tarpaulin Sky Press, as well as three books of poetry, Dear Ra (A Story In Flinches), Pilot (Johann the Carousel Horse), and A New Quarantine Will Take My Place. He teaches at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and blogs at montevidayo.com.