Francesco Levato

[ from kaustos ‘burnt’ (from kaiein ‘to burn’) ]

Critical Statement

“[ from kaustos ‘burnt’ (from kaiein ‘to burn’) ]” sequence 2.0bx is a hybrid work consisting of procedurally constructed poems and a linked sequence of footnotes that form a theoretical dialog formulated as a Benjaminian citational montage, in Theodor Adorno’s words “a juxtaposition of quotations so that the theory springs out of it without having to be inserted as interpretation.” Further, the footnotes are intended to offer multiple modes of engagement within the footnote sequence itself as well as with the poems. As such, their numbering does not fix reference to specific lines in the accompanying poem, as traditional conventions would require. The poems themselves are based on chance operations (a variation/combination of Bernstein’s Acrostic Chance method and John Cage’s Mesostics) that use Earth’s Holocaust, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, as a seed text, and a series of source texts including Leviathan, by Hobbes; Aristotle's Poetics; Humane Understanding, by Locke; Shelly’s Frankenstein; The Collected Works of H. P. Lovecraft; and Elements of Chemistry, by Antoine Lavoisier. Language from the source texts is collected via procedure, then reworked to shape the final poems.

The poetic sequences serve as a détournement, in the Situationist tradition of “turning expressions of the capitalist system [here interpreted as Bernstein’s “Official Verse Culture” and the commodified poetries of what I term the Poetry Industrial Complex] and its media culture against itself.” This is explored through a number of theoretical frameworks including Julia Kristeva’s conception of the abject, and Manuel DeLanda’s interpretation of Deleuzian assemblages. For Kristeva the abject is the human reaction (horror, vomit) to a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object or between self and other (“Introduction to Julia Kristeva”), and though this references the physical, the abject in “[ from kaustos ‘burnt’ (from kaiein ‘to burn’) ]” is explored through a literary framework. Language in the poems is appropriated from source texts that symbolically put theories, like the Hobsian call for submission to the absolute authority of a sovereign and the Lockean idea of the sovereign being within oneself, in dialectical conflict. Further, appropriation and citational collage, techniques criticized in canonical and contemporary works from Eliot’s The Waste Land and Benjamin’s The Arcades Project to the “Uncreative Writing” of Kenneth Goldsmith, are used to construct a literary abject, as stanzaic lyric poetry (read “high art” poetic form), from canonical genres, social/cultural/literary theory, and scraps of “low art” pulp fiction, like the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Finally, mixed within this assemblage of theoretical concerns are the material implications of practices of burning (an overarching conceit of the project), like the use of white phosphorus, a substance that ignites on exposure to oxygen and continues to burn until its supply of oxygen is exhausted.

The intent then of this project is not to form a discrete and coherent interpretation of the source texts and associated theories, but instead to form from them a series of interlinked assemblages, in the DeLandian model, through which to explore the emergent properties/possible interpretations resulting from the complex interplay of these independent and disparate systems.

[ from kaustos ‘burnt’ (from kaiein ‘to burn’) ] 2.0b1

route of exposure: inhalation: death

As I crept toward brighter I saw the leave-taking,
a body in motion, and by degrees
stretched out in every direction, a vast and irregular plain of ice.

In the open spaces were sometimes buildings standing, mixed modes
made by a voluntary collection, independent from original patterns,
not out of necessity, but to save the labour of enumerating simple ideas,
the use of words, the imaginations of those who sleep.

My departure was now again determined,
in that Palaeozoic and abysmal place I felt such things, I shuddered
at the possible implications.


     1. In the course of his four hundred lines, [Eliot] quotes from a score of authors and in three foreign languages, though his artistry has reached that point at which it knows the wisdom of sometimes concealing itself. There is in general in his work a disinclination to awake in us a direct emotional response. . . . From there he conducts a magic-lantern show; but being too reserved to expose in public the impressions stamped on his own soul by the journey through the Waste Land, he employs the slides made by others, indicating with a touch the difference between his reaction and theirs (Brooker, T.S. Eliot 110).

     2. To help us to elucidate the poem Mr. Eliot has provided some notes which will be of more interest to the pedantic than the poetic critic. . . . This is the cultural or middle layer, which, whilst it helps us to perceive the underlying emotion, is of no poetic value in itself. We desire to touch the inspiration itself, and if the apparatus of reserve is too strongly constructed, it will defeat the poet’s end (Brooker, T.S. Eliot 110).

     3. There looms, within abjection, one of those violent, dark revolts of being, directed against a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant outside or inside, ejected beyond the scope of the possible, the tolerable, the thinkable (Kristeva, Powers 1).

[ from kaustos ‘burnt’ (from kaiein ‘to burn’) ] 2.0b2

mechanisms of action

While he screamed he thought a momentary cloud
eclipsed the window, a covenant made,
wherein neither performe presently, but trust one another;
a condition of nature, a condition of warre,
the use of these marks, to record their own thoughts,
lay them before the view of others. Words,
in their primary or immediate signification stand for nothing;
how imperfectly, how carelessly collected
from the things which they are supposed to represent.


     4. A certain "ego" that merged with its master, a superego, has flatly driven it away. It lies outside, beyond the set, and does not seem to agree to the latter's rules of the game. And yet, from its place of banishment, the abject does not cease challenging its master (Kristeva, Powers 2).

    &nbbsp;5. Literary abjection, challenging the canon through collage, appropriation, etc.—Dodie Bellamy writes not only of the physically abject but in popular ("low" art) forms as literary abjection.

     6. To each ego its object, to each superego its abject. It is not the white expanse or slack boredom of repression, not the translations and transformations of desire that wrench bodies, nights, and discourse; rather it is a brutish suffering that, "I" puts up with, sublime and devastated, for "I" deposits it to the father's account [verse au pere—pere-uersion]: I endure it, for I imagine that such is the desire of the other (Kristeva, Powers 2). Sanctioned genres, themes, modes of writing, the mainstream in poetry.

[ from kaustos ‘burnt’ (from kaiein ‘to burn’) ] 2.0b3

biomarkers of exposure and effect

I remained while the storm lasted, watching its progress
with curiosity and delight; absurdities
that proceed from confusion, an unfit connexion
caused by the distemper of some inward parts,
a mis-reasoning that words stand also for the reality of things.

It had an evil taste, that was not exactly fetid nor salty,
the idol, or fetish, or whatever it was, so singular and hideous,
the essence according to which all things are made.

I was the only one who came back that night,
discovered those names given to objects of discourse;
learned and applied words for ‘milk,’ ‘bread,’ ‘wood,’ and ‘fire.’


     7. One can of course see how each kind of society corresponds to a particular kind of machine-with simple mechanical machines corresponding to sovereign societies, thermo­ dynamic machines to disciplinary societies, cybernetic machines and computers to control societies. But the machines don’t explain anything, you have to analyze the collective apparatuses of which the machines are just one component (Deleuze, Negotiations 175).
     8. The quest for “universals of communication” ought to make us shudder. It’s true that, even before control societies are fully in place, forms of delinquency or resistance (two different things) are also appearing. Computer piracy and viruses, for example, will replace strikes and what the nineteenth century called "sabotage" ("clogging" the machinery) (Deleuze, Negotiations 175).

[ from kaustos ‘burnt’ (from kaiein ‘to burn’) ] 2.0b4

found in dead

I had dreamed bizarre things, the intensity stronger
during the sculptor’s delirium. I knew it was cursed,
this privilege of absurdity, mixed modes terminating
in the idea of the mind, the faculty of imagining
by words or other voluntary signes; these reflections
my hours of despondency and solitude, my admiration
of virtues a personal deformity.

This then, the proper business of genus and species.


     9. It is not just returning to the past which is reactionary; even “modern” cultural objectives are ultimately reactionary since they depend on ideological formulations of a past society that has prolonged its death agony to the present. The only historically justified tactic is extremist innovation (Debord and Wolman, “User's Guide”).

     10. Any elements, no matter where they are taken from, can serve in making new combinations. The discoveries of modern poetry regarding the analogical structure of images demonstrate that when two objects are brought together, no matter how far apart their original contexts may be, a relationship is always formed. Restricting oneself to a personal arrangement of words is mere convention. The mutual interference of two worlds of feeling, or the bringing together of two independent expressions, supersedes the original elements and produces a synthetic organization of greater efficacy (Debord and Wolman, “User's Guide”).

[ from kaustos ‘burnt’ (from kaiein ‘to burn’) ] 2.0b5

observations on sulphur

I never saw a more interesting creature,
a long chain of consequences, a weight grown steadily less
as time passed, minuter divisions from differences known
in the internal frame; such precise ideas a haunting of solitudes,
a fear of someone or some other particular thing.
How strange then, that we should attain the essence
designed in the production of things.


     11. Assemblages, wholes whose properties emerge from the complex interactions of independent parts; here in fragments, characterized by relations of exteriority. “These relations imply, first of all, that a component part of an assemblage may be detached from it and plugged into a different assemblage in which its interactions are different. In other words, the exteriority of relations implies a certain autonomy for the terms they relate, or as Deleuze puts it, it implies that ‘a relation may change without the terms changing.’ Relations of exteriority also imply that the properties of the component parts can never explain the relations which constitute a whole, that is, ‘relations do not have as their causes the properties of the [component parts] between which they are established . . .’ although they may be caused by the exercise of a component’s capacities.” (DeLanda, New Philosophy)
     12. If objects are withdrawn from one another, then how do they relate? This is the problem of what Harman refers to as “vicarious causation”. How do objects relate to one another when they are necessarily independent of all their relations? (Bryant, Democracy 31)

[ from kaustos ‘burnt’ (from kaiein ‘to burn’) ] 2.0b6

a chair, a table, a pile of books

When I sat down to read I found the forbidden translation;
a book I had never seen, but of which I had heard monstrous things,
a recollection that triumphed over selfish despair.

The giving of names of bodies to accidents, or of accidents to bodies,
that faith is infused when nothing can be powered
or breathed into body; how arbitrarily these essences are made by the mind.


     13. [A]ll objects equally exist, but not all objects exist equally (Bryant, Democracy 290).

     14. Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence. This includes the changes which it may have suffered in physical condition over the years as well as the various changes in its ownership. The traces of the first can be revealed only by chemical or physical analyses which it is impossible to perform on a reproduction; changes of ownership are subject to a tradition which must be traced from the situation of the original (Benjamin, Illuminations 220).

     15. [W]hat flat ontology thus refuses is the erasure of any object as the mere construction of another object. (Bryant, Democracy 290).

[ from kaustos ‘burnt’ (from kaiein ‘to burn’) ] 2.0b7

on the method of separating

As for witches, I think not that their craft is any real power;
their trade being nearer to a new religion than to science,
the names of mixed modes gotten,
before the ideas they stand for are perfectly known.

By believing is meant, not trust in the person
but acknowledgement of the doctrine, all shouting and killing
and reveling in joy. In the morning, however, as soon as it was light,
I found all busy, apparently talking to someone in the sea.


     16. A given work of art should be compared not to any isolated locus but to a river's catchment, complete with its estuaries, its many tributaries, its dramatic rapids, its many meandering turns and, of course, also, its several hidden sources (Latour and Lowe, “Migration of the Aura”).

     17. [C]onceptual writing, as it is now called, is appropriate for the information age when we are increasingly skeptical about the possibilities of mimetic representation of particular individuals; to “invent” a Kurt Waldheim would not be nearly as effective as to let his own sentences and phrases, fragmented, recycled, and collaged, speak for themselves (Perloff, “John Cage”).

Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter, and Hannah Arendt. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Illuminations. New York: Schocken, 1986. N. pag. Print.

Brooker, Jewel Spears. T.S. Eliot: The Contemporary Reviews. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2004. Print.

Bryant, Levi R. The Democracy of Objects. Ann Arbor: Open Humanities, 2011. Print.
Burroughs, William S., and Brion Gysin. The Third Mind. New York: Viking, 1978. Print.

Debord, Guy, and Gil J. Wolman. "A User's Guide to Détournement." Trans. Ken Knabb. Les Lèvres Nues 8 (1956): n. pag. Print.

DeLanda, Manuel. A New Philosophy of Society Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity. London: Continuum, 2006. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Martin Joughin. Negotiations, 1972-1990. New York: Columbia UP, 1995. Print.

Goldsmith, Kenneth. "Conceptual Poetics: Kenneth Goldsmith." Harriet The Blog RSS. Poetry Foundation, June 2008. Web. 28 Apr. 2013.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. N.p.: n.p., 1651. Project Gutenberg. Web.

"Introduction to Julia Kristeva, Module on the Abject." Introduction to Julia Kristeva, Module on the Abject. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.

Kristeva, Julia, and Leon Samuel. Roudiez. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia UP, 1982. Print.

Kull, Kalevi. "Organism as a Self-reading Text: Anticipation and Semiosis." International Journal of Computing Anticipatory Systems 1 (1998): 93-104. Print.

Latour, Bruno, and Adam Lowe. "The Migration of the Aura or How to Explore the Original Through Its Facsimiles." Switching Codes: Thinking through Digital Technology in the Humanities and the Arts. By Thomas Bartscherer and Roderick Coover. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2011. N. pag. Print.

Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. London: n.p., 1690. Project Gutenberg. Web.

Lovecraft, H. P. Collected Stories. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Project Gutenberg of Australia. Jan. 2006. Web.

Ma, Ming-Qian. "From Innovation to Renovation: Formal Practice and the Politics of Absorption in American Language Poetry." Formes Poerique Contemporarine (2010): n. pag. Print.

Perloff, Marjorie. "John Cage Conceptualist Poet." The Battersea Review. The Battersea Review, n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2013.

USA. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Toxicological Profile For White Phosphorus. By Penny Duerksen-Hughes, Ph.D., Patricia Richter, Ph.D., Lisa Ingerman, Ph.D., William Ruoff, Ph.D., Sujatha Thampi, Ph.D., and Steven Donkin, Ph.D. N.p.: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 1997. Print.

Wollstonecraft Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. London: n.p., 1818. Project Gutenberg. Web.

Francesco Levato is a poet, translator, and new media artist. Recent books include Endless, Beautiful, Exact; Elegy for Dead Languages; War Rug; and Creaturing (as translator). His poetry films have been performed with various composers, including Philip Glass. He founded the Chicago School of Poetics, holds an MFA in Poetry, and is working on his PhD in English Studies. www.francescolevato.com

Pages 8-15, which follow on from the above pages, appear in Delete Press' OPON, issue 2.
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