Sunday, January 12, 2014



Blame Fault Mountain by Spencer Selby 
(BlazeVOX [books], Buffalo, N.Y., 2013)


With no consideration, no pity, no shame,
they have built walls around me, thick and high.
And now I sit here feeling hopeless.
--C.P. Cavafy

In the current intellectual climate
atheists wake in the middle of the night startled by flags,
a landscape of horses and birds on fire.
--Scott Keeney

In Jean Baudrillard’s brief tract from Semiotext(e) titled The Agony of Power there are many references that are about freedom and what freedom means in the context of society today. Baudrillard’s writing like media criticism, takes as its themes desensitization and aimlessness. Though he doesn’t bring in the past, Baudrillard says that in today’s society we see “signs emptied of their substance” and a world “where there is no reason left to believe in anything.” But Baudrillard’s writing is different from periodic skepticism regarding the fate of civilization. At bottom his tract recognizes what might be described as the credibility of freedom in a world that feels the strong pull of succumbing to materialism.

Baudrillard writes,

After the sacrifice of value, after the sacrifice of representation, after the sacrifice of reality, the West is now characterized by the deliberate sacrifice of everything through which a human being keeps sense value in his or her own eyes. 

With his simple empiricism, Baudrillard aims not particularly at a prediction of doom but at what he considers a timely distinction. The first essay of his tract is titled “From Domination to Hegemony.” What he is getting at is that freedom is threatened in our society in a new way, in new terms. In talking about “the saturation of power” and an “intolerable” world of “total, instantaneous, perpetual communication,” Baudrillard says “this is the virtual dimension of hegemony—it is different from the domination of capital and different from the dimension of power in its strictly political definition.” In some dictionaries, “hegemony” is defined as “domination.” For Baudrillard, hegemony poses the same problems as tyranny, but its source is somewhat altered. This type of tyranny is based on deception, intimidation, disinformation, predictability, the drug of objects, hysteria. It is an inner tyranny, a disorientation rather than the imposed tyranny of legalistic absolutism. In her book The Roots of Tyranny, Hannah Arendt takes note of the fact that World War Two-era fascism was unlike previous forms of despotism in that, based on propaganda, it constituted despotic government but it attempted to appear, deceptively, as a liberating or rights-oriented form of government. It was a subversion of government. Baudrillard has taken this idea one step further. For Baudrillard, hegemony is tyrannical rule based on deception, but it is a deception of which no one is in control. Today’s society is a society tyrannized by itself, by the confusion that results from its deceiving of itself.


In his poetry collection Blame Fault Mountain, it’s this tyranny of commodification, this turning the simplest and most characteristic social actions into moral labyrinths of disregard for consequences, in which our aims become fragmented and scattered and we are turned into spiritual cannibals (Baudrillard’s word) in our self-degradation and self-annihilation that Spencer Selby has attempted to elaborate and convey.

I don’t say that Selby’s excellent writing is directly connected with Baudrillard’s. In fact, Selby’s ninety-eight page 2013 collection from BlazeVOX in Buffalo, NY expertly employs a variety of stylistic strategies—from lyric poetry to visual poetry, with stops in Joycetown, Kafkaville, the Land of Caanan and even Hemingway Crossing along the way. A current resident of Ames, IA, recently departed from the San Francisco area, Selby's writing also seems much nurtured from the capillaries of contemporary writing.

The first section of the collection is ten poems, listed by number, under the heading of “EMWRLD.” I take this title to be a slightly, carelessly jumbled and obscured—in the gentle manner befitting nature and the reality of the original forest floor itself—visual version of “MEWORLD” or “MY WORLD.” This would be the lyric section of the book, the straightforward section, what might be called the standard textual section, in which the words emanate from a sincere, feeling human “I” as directly as possible within the limiting parameters of a universe and a language that can never exceed a certain amount of ambiguity and unclarity. Vis-à-vis Baudrillard, “MY WORLD” or possibly “MY WORD” would be an heroic attempt at preserving the sanctity of one’s thought and one’s commentary against the centripetal forces of obfuscation and marginalization. Here are the first lines of the first poem of Selby’s book:

I thought yes let me out
now beating thrall
somehow different
and my voice faltering
out of mistake drowning
always divided nightmare

Here are the last lines of the first poem:

empty full lassitude
weary sodden trickles
slush of consciousness
without listening in time
the hunt for waterproof sky

In poem 7 of this section is the strophe:

what happened to the source
of emotion concealed
by those who put up signs
along futuristic memory lane

Poem 10 begins with the lines:

I become dumbfounded after
so many struggles to remember
names, faces and events


Further along in the collection is a section titled “TEXT FROM MY VISUAL BOOK.” In these fourteen pages of the actual book are contained sixty brief sections of writing each with the title beginning with “Page 1” and going to “Page 60.” This book-within-a-book draws into perspective the disproportionate importance of the normative notions about publication and books held in our global culture. These “pages” are a deconstruction of the idea of a book; they are a book in experimental form. What a book conveys isn’t always in its writing or its intent. Like a painting that extends onto its frame, like a human being among other human beings, this section speaks in an implicit way of a message of all books together. As would “found writing,” the words of the writing in this section do not fit the context of a theme or lesson from its author. Rather the words fit with the anthropological and metaphysical contexts of both author-ship and language, revealing language’s inadequacies (its “fault”)—a certain insignificance and insurmountable inability in engaging the fundamental problems of human fellowship—and the heights of projection and compassion that it is able to achieve (the “blame” it is able rightly to place on others)—a dizzying facility, an inextinguishable inseparability from human endeavor and human fate.

In this section Selby has created yet another style of visual writing or visual poetry (to go along with many other styles created by many other visual writers). The poem titled “Page 17” is filled with clipped words that hint at thematic ideas. The syntax is merely a matter of juxtaposition—verbs, nouns, suffixes, capital letters and punctuation. In a way, the writing of “Page 17” makes no sense at all. But words such as “discipline,” “cancel,” “enormous,” “nominal,” without trying, take us into a realm of social relationships, history (historicity), the meaning of life. At the same time these words cannot fail to demonstrate that at times we think in ways that are narrow and preoccupied. The lack of syntax portrays this. We don’t always know what we are saying, and words associated with morality sometimes belie a situation in which no genuine morality is present at all. Yet it cannot be entirely absent, because of inscription itself. Selby invents several other forms of visual writing in this collection also, in the poems titled “ADMISSION” and “OAOVELRD” especially.


In the last section of this collection—INTERLOGUE—there is no longer any context, any directness, any wholes, any “I.” The mass rhythms that we sense around us are deadening interruptions of nature that disturb the transformations of our wandering. In the corner of our nostrils is the confused numbness of anonymity and amnesia. Nothing is visible except distortion. The brainwashed silence speaks of a terror “revealed under vague threat / of a single point just beyond.” There is no reality. Without any logic, with only the impressive parasitism of a reverse vigilance, with only a reptilian sort of green blood oozing everywhere, the use of the word “reality” is strictly forbidden. Any and all words are potentially an offense. There are no speakers in these poems. There are no people. The landscape is one of absence, of a depopulating fear. “Here clarity is an illusion.” There is no sadness or happiness but only mistrust and peril maddeningly re-rehearsing for life kept dormant and out of reach under artificial life support. Strength and knowledge are turned into weakness and ignorance via the strategies of falseness.

The reading remains shut-up in
itself to reach threshold first
noticed in a voice which was
either too low or too high


Stage behind stage evoked
on knees bent over
unsaid veracity polished
like a rifle trained on paper

We are incredulous in legislative chambers after midnight, witnessing an autonomous injustice about which we are able to do nothing, witnessing Jay Leno serpentinely filibustering the future—the closing of Guantanamo prison, the bringing of Black people into the system taking their rightful place. Due to imperceptible crimes of diversion, a faceless, nameless incompetence has shut civilization down, has created a tower of babbling that is able to achieve nothing except what’s wrong and prevent nothing except what’s right. Like the adventurous litigant of The Trial, clearly innocent of any crime but already condemned in whispering halls, we are living in a world where

Twin features of obsession now
making a ghost enlist and steal
eyes out of their orbit

Account selected with a hammer
when lifting or crushing slabs
afraid of everything else

seemingly incurable that copes
with hogwash religion until
zero decides to play fair


I think it’s accurate to call Selby and Baudrillard optimistic. Baudrillard quotes Elias Canetti as saying,

If I could think that there were a few peple without any power in the world, then I would know that all is not lost.

If people without power is a hopeful sign, the future looks bright indeed. Baudrillard is bouyed by the endless romance he Is having with the intricate beauties of freedom. Selby makes his peace with something larger than himself. He writes in the title poem

Behind each slab that premature move freakish in withered night grip spreads freely until some clown begins signaling bodies in attendance that with or without pain there will come time to perish during great narrative phenomenon.

Perhaps a glimpse of the future is already in view in the way that the Occupy generation and the basketball wizards rather than attempting to preserve the past are creating forms and patterns that are consciously dissimilar from those that preceded them. Instead of keeping up with the Joneses, we will live in a society that finds out what the Joneses are doing and intently, and with the Joneses’ blessing, does something radically different. One of the most important themes that needs to be considered in contemporary prose and poetry is the theme of iconic form and the problems that it causes. We must get away from stifling hegemony,the tyrannizing tropes and images that interfere with generative powers of thought, fairness, imagination, life-in-itself. Perhaps the message of Selby’s poetry is that this “disintigration” of society does signal the end of hegemony and iconic value. Baudrillard speaks of a “masquerade” and a “carnivalization.” With freedom there is always an interactive mechanism that is self-correcting and self-perpetuating. “This is the total masquerade in which domination [hegemony] itself is engulfed.”


Tom Hibbard has recently published several articles on visual writing: one in Big Bridge, Issue 17 and also in Galatea Resurrects, Issue 19. He has also had an article on the work of Belgian artist Luc Fierens in Word/ For Word, Issue 22 and an article on Jack Kerouac's poetry also in Big Bridge, Issue 17. His book of poetry The Sacred River of Consciousness is available online at Moon Willow Press and His book Place of Uncertainty is available online at Otoliths Storefront from Lulu. Hibbard is working on a new collection of poetry and further articles on visual writing.  Two visual poems of his were published this month in the current issue of Cricket Online Review. 

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