Exquisite Corpse - Issue 4
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Skeuromorph Detective pt. 3
by Julian Semilian (Continued from CyberCorpse #3)
In the first episode of the Skeuromorph Detective we introduced you to the etiology of the skeuromorph and inducted the author, by way of the vatic exhortation of his poet friend, into the profession of skeuromorph detective. You were also invited to participate in the alchemic eroticism of the author/detective's painter and Hungarian friend. And further, skeuromorph is defined as "... something constructed in the shape of the original", but of substances stepping lower on the aristocratic scale of material hierarchies.
     In episode two, the detective indulges poetically, in what is a logic-defying feast of treacherous word gymnastics, wherein he pampers himself with his pondering formulations in the arcana of nearly discarded language formations, shaping himself skeuromorphically before the looking glass of imagined poetic absolutes which he attempts to emulate so as to masquerade as the messenger of, while in the meanwhile sucked into the quicksand of his undomesticated erotical urgings, his towering erotomania. Walter Benjamin and Guy Debord make guest appearances as imaginary friends of the detective to lend credence to his turmoiled chimerical verve.
     As in episode one, the detective's painter and Hungarian friend stages an entrance to mock-condemn modern day phantasmagoria with such sentencings as "lingerie staged as neutralized quotidian".
     At the finalŠ of episode two, the detective dips his toes into the tar of political quagmire which stains to his horror the phantasms he adores.

to Pali 'Pablo' Kovatch, 1934-2000

     It is where he wished to be temporarily left alone, so as to further weave its strands of pitch into further plethora of lexical pliés and bar exercises. But no! Another course of action is required of him when grim fate in the guise of a midnight phone call rudely awakens him from his pitchy cogitations. Mara, who appears in the first episode as the painter's 18-year-old gorgeous Italian model girlfriend, now still gorgeous at 34, still his girlfriend!, informs him that Pablo - yes, it is perhaps now time to reveal his name, Pablo Kovatch - had died. At an early 66. The funeral was in two days, could I fly to Los Angeles for the funeral, Pablo would have wanted it that way. Besides Pablo had willed me the virtual contents of his computer, and there was a note he left before he mysteriously died - for no apparent reason - which, I, being a poet, as she put it, would be in a better position of deciphering.
     The note had a number of nearly undiscernible scrawlings. I made out "I have successfully scraped the potatoes of error from the skillet my Pure Abscondance", and right below, "tumbling into a chocolate capitulation". These made vague sense to me, like the ideas of a philosopher from another century in whose discourse you find surprising but obscure resonances, from a distant land you have no distinguishing regard for, but I wasn't in the mood to extort meaning from their mud for the potato cogitation and perhaps staring regard of his ex-lovers, male and female, and the few friends faithful to the end. Pablo had been like a father to me and a mentor I didn't fully admire. Besides, I was still angry with him. When I bragged to him of the success of my "Skeuromorph Detective" in the pages of the Exquisite Corpse, and the dozens e-mails from fans I was forced to respond to daily, he merely snorted. I instantly suspected him of a veiled jealousy, especially when I gloated over an imagined affair with the Corpse's Webmistress herself and all I got from him was the emission of a raucous cackle instead of the appreciative cachinnation I craved. That from a man who was never taken seriously as a painter. He was technically authoritative, yes, but his indulgence in fetish burdened his palate, nay, sank it. Nor he ever a vatic conductor. And as to the realm of public recognition, the best he ended up with was retouching pantyhose billboards. It paid well, but why so many adoring lovers is an enigma I've never mastered.
     I never told him how I felt about his work. I had written him a letter which I never sent him, where I propose that "...the mirror scoops into itself the vatic resplendence you crave, and all you remain with are the products of a false petroleum alchemy. You end up with a coagulating obedience to the amnesia of mass. You gradually behave as though you believe that all telepathic is heresy. You will never possess the lodestone of ephemeral ore, insurgency's lava."
     I didn't see why I should lug the hard drive across the continent to my new Carolina quarters. I stuffed its contents on an old zip drive I borrowed from a fan and shoved it in my overnight luggage. Then I trashed the hard drive. It must have been the wayward magnetic waves released by the security at the airport that erased the greater part of it. A few fragments survive, and it is those I feel compelled - for no reason I can discern - to share with you, my readers. Compelled. I apologize to all fans whose curiosity and thirst for learning I stirred with my previous episodes. In all fairness to me, though, if indeed your interest in skeuromorphy was truly roused by my words, you'll find much to be pleased by in the following letter that Pablo wrote to a lover and that I spent a feverish night rescuing from the zapped zip drive.
     "Dear Flora:
     Nietzsche says in his "The Gay Science": "So far, everything that has given color to existence still lacks a history...". You wore a mini and white cotton stockings and kept pulling up them up past mid thigh past the toothless leering of the homeless proletarians now thoroughly eroticised in the silvery light of the Saturday afternoon, folded as they were by the right angle formed by the sidewalk and the stone side of the building and who bellowed their appreciation each time you bent because they kept falling down, the stockings that is, unpropped up as they were by anything but their own inherent property to grip the skin, property their designer did not endow them with liberally; or, the material itself was not inherently endowed with the property to grip the skin, but it was the designer who picked the material. (The possibility exists certainly the manufacturer did not follow the specifications for material that the designer conjured up when working alone on the design of the stockings in his studio, perhaps he had asked for strands of elastic lycra to be infused into the cotton, who knows? Yes, that possibility certainly exists, but as with most historical scientific movements, a limitation of assumptions has to be made to elicit any advance; so we will assume for the purposes of our search the designer picked the material the manufacturer ended up using. Based on my experiences I know this is not perhaps likely; but, to advance, we will assume it and go on.)
     Such was the choice of the material, and I wondered if it was purposefully selected. This is not a territory I am familiar with, not a territory I invested with interest, so I wondered what the designer had in mind at the time. If I were to declare I would like to invest interest in this territory, I would feel fearful, as though I ran the risk of being discovered and exposed while performing an act for which I would be ridiculed and shamed. Certain materials are invested with this sort of shame, natural or synthetic. You long for this sort of material, but secretly, and glance at it surreptitiously when passing the you-know-what rack in the supermarket.
     Still, there was someone who clearly didn't feel shame and designed this particular sort of delightful stocking and I wondered if he thought about the frustration he was causing in me. I wondered if that was part of the design. You did not seem frustrated, and kept pulling them up, though irregularly. I want to say 'you couldn't set your clock by it', but I hate the commonplace. We were part of a larger drama, designed by the designer of the stockings; the designer of the stockings was too part of a larger drama: the drama of stockings. The allure of stockings was designed into the universe to play a major role over a sectioned portion of time and space, of history, fraying certainly into other times and spaces, other histories, other universes, where the stocking played a more minor or no role; The universe itself, in imagining its own drama, designed stockings; stockings are weaved out of the universe itself, its entrancing strands are secreted by the universe itself, stockings are the universe weaving itself into entrancement; the designer of stockings was merely the messenger of the spider at the center of the universe.
     I now realize their entrancement, the stockings, your stockings specifically, was the mechanism they produced: their mid-thigh allure contra the constant thwarted hope they would stay up so as to maintain the mid-thigh allure; each action of pulling them up foisted upon me new hope; less than five minutes later however, whether walking or sitting or lying down - we were walking - the ideal form would disband to leave in its place a longing for it; one lived for the spectacle of the next pulling up, for the spectacle induced by the 'very acme and pitch' as Donne would put it, the apogee of the next pulling up, the zenith, and for the hope that the next pulling up would bring a more lasting success; and though one understood very well the principles of physics, such as the principle of diminishing grips each successive pulling up would necessarily lead to, one never stopped hoping, hoping against hope. Hope is a thing with feathers. No, hope is a thing with garters.
     I silently fought for a world of fixity, while you promoted motion. Yes, the very design of the stockings led to your motion; I can't guess whether you were a volunteer in collaboration with this designer's experiments or whether your actions were simply the involuntary result of this designer's designs. Still, your motion was made valid by previous fixities; all present art, I heard it said, is an ironic discourse on the art of the previous generation; yes, the motion itself was a commentary on the previous fixity, and the commenting itself became the entrancement which previously consisted in fixity. Even the non-luminous whiteness was a comment upon previous luciferous black. The constancy of the spell of white thigh - tanned - preaching from the pulpit of the lacy top, the vertical worship of the garter belt pointing approximately to the chantry; your fingers which previously were to be fixed on the instrument to ensure the worshipper's conversion, the flagellum, were now busy with the labor of reconstructing the fixity; but in so doing, the reconstruction became a deconstruction, motion replacing fixity. Religion converting to post-modernism.
     One dreamed of possible schemes of progress, not progress but return, improvement; yes, one postulated an appropriate garter-belt, only to fearfully dismiss it a moment later: the simple but not inelegant stocking top - a creation achieved by no more than a mere folding over of the fabric at the top, a folding over of no more than a half an inch, and a stitch which the eye sought in desperate hope for the impossible fulfillment which the lace surely would have brought, still, a stitch not to be merely dismissed, a stitch which was merely a stitch, whose function was just to be that and no more, though the designer of the stocking, even by choosing cotton, even by eschewing the expected elemental lace of the top, by subverting so obviously the expected ideal form, was well aware of the boldness of his statement - was consciously endowed with its own aesthetics that did not wed it to the garter belt, it made the a propos garter belt inappropriate, it belonged to another, newer, elemental condition of ideal beauty. No, this white cotton stocking, a condensed condition of a previous history, an apparently austere protestantism emerging from an indulgent baroque catholicism, more, an ironic commenting, with its laundry fresh allure mimicking the scent of spring flowers transgressing thus into a possibly permitted decadence, was a bold scheme to undermine and subdue by inappropriate means, to undermine and subdue the ideal form, the classical, mythological form; a post-protestant form to restate and undermine, a quicksand scheme, a Fata Morgana, a now-you-see it-now-you-don't ruse to subvert the pre-established order; it was aimed at seduction by catering to our longing for seduction by destruction; a form of pleasure we crave, to be frustrated in the grips of the entrancer, the grips of the entrance, a mechanism of frustration aimed at the vanquishment of the hapless spectator; at the instant of the vanquishment, achieved by the constant wearing down of the vanquished through successive quicksand morality, of promises never kept; a lesson perhaps partially gleaned from the insurgent cocote of Lubitch in the movies of the thirties who to entrance and thus vanquish the iconic male she pulled on the strand of the proper papillon to disband its proper form; very much like Baudrillard's colonialism as seduction; or colonialism by seduction; the victor could go so far as to let the subversive stockings reach, to the vanquished one's ecstatic horror, like the ultimate quicksand suck, all the way down to the ankles; no, not exactly: you wore black suede grandma boots with four inch heels; the boots gripped entrancingly half way up your ballerina calves, while the fiercely threatening laces made such precise loops! though I hesitate to call them grandma boots because grandma implies a decaying of the flesh, I am trying to avoid thinking of decaying flesh when I think of you and I and our endeavors to engender pleasure together for and from each other.
     I was speaking of the designer of the stockings; you are a woman who admires philosophy, who philosophizes herself. André Breton says: "The human individual struggles within a play of forces whose meaning he has generally given up trying to unravel, and his utter lack of curiosity in this regard indeed seems to be the very condition of his adaptation to life in society: rarely is the shoemaker's or optician's trade compatible with any profound meditation on the goals of human activity."
     I agree. They flounder at the border of a quicksand namelessness no one rewards them to penetrate and, like squint eyed philosophers, like shepherds of bleating notions, they wipe their eyes in crooked wonder reckoning it pays nothing to venture a furlong further to the beyond where the true trafficking of ideas transmutes to the degree of vision.
     You will appreciate then, I'm sure, my discussing the erotic mechanism designed into the stockings, the subtle machinery foisted upon us to enhance pleasure and enslave. I don't know if it is appropriate to bring up the workings of capitalism here; I am not very well versed in Marx - though you'd think with my background I would be - yet I feel it is appropriate, I'm sure it is, to bring up mass production, as that particular pair of stockings you wore that day, the only time I ever saw you wear those stockings, the only pair of stockings of that sort I ever saw anywhere, were creations of a designer who understood the most subtle desire mechanisms of the human soul, a true poet, all the more so in that he was unrecognized by the poetic community at large; I recognize you, poet of engendering desire, whether you are a true poet whose meaning is to foist pleasure upon the soul and thus free the soul from its daily fetters, a poet whose designing strands are the true strands of the spider herself spinning at the center of the Imponderable from the silk of Helios, or whether you are a poet spy, spinning from the strands of labor's blinded tarantulas, a poet whose meaning is to enslave the soul to the subtle and complex mechanisms of capitalism and mass production: even our most private, intimate thoughts and desires are pre-designed; as in Borges' Babylonian Lottery where part of the punishment, or the reward, according only to how you choose to view it, is to be delivered into the hands of an intimate enemy; the enemy, in this case, is the mechanism of the stockings which is in turn the mechanism of capitalism: to engender desire which to constantly in turn frustrate, which in turn engenders more desire to continue to constantly frustrate. Who is the spider at the center who yarns the yearning of it all? (Please note here that in latin cultures the spider's net is likened to the silk of the stocking.)
     O the phantasmic yearning whose luminous yarn I'm in the grip of and with your help tried to reconstruct in strict observance of its promised entrancements, whose initiation's grips we attempted to escape into, how you and I bartered for that pleasure you promised me! How we quartered our imponderables on scales of culpability! The world itself an infinite stocking made guilty by our staring!
     Is there, I ask myself, a platonic stocking at the center of the universe, one which only god might wear and from which all our imperfect copies are constructed? Was your sporadic folding and unfolding meant to fulfill the fate inherent in the mechanism of the stockings ultimately a dance you performed for a god's enjoyment? A dance to make this god happy, and me miserable?
     But let me douse this poetic exuberance with the cotton of disappointment. Your white stockings lacked luminance, which was mildly annoying. Perhaps it was the fault of the weft. If I said the choice of cotton was amusing I would be dishonest. At the time I think I might have welcomed it, as a relief from the indulgence of imagined silk and the luminance of its petrolific mimicks. In a French movie of the thirties a pimp conveys his frustration his whore's stockings are cotton. In retrospect the cotton was only mildly disappointing at the time you wore it. In retrospect I crave its laundry fresh allure with its mimick of spring flowers. I realize now the grave mistake we made. The grave mistake I made. But again, I'm getting ahead of myself. Still, if I were to turn the hose of self-reflection on myself and splay on myself a healthy dose of self-criticism, I would claim that at the time you wore these cotton stockings, which clearly lacked the craved luminance of their baroque predecessors, I lacked luminance too, the luminous numen of recognition: unwilling to let go of preconceived notions of the pleasure mechanisms of my past, having cemented through incessant recapitulation of imaginal worship an altar to the garter belt, I couldn't allow a purely ecstatic worship to be engendered by the white cotton stockings, I saw them merely as amusing mirrorings not transcending irony, irony whose function is merely to amuse, to merely hoist up a lip corner, but not to break through to the worshipful pose of ecstatic abandonment. In retrospect I clearly see I faltered. In clasping so close my altar to the garter, in my worshipful fundamentalism, I failed to appreciate and thus open up the potential of new germinal incipiences.
     I faint now to imagine the soft suck your lovely legs were enduring - o the intransigent perfection of your lovely legs! - and since I don't have you any longer, it is as though I am plunged into stockings myself! Yes, the stockings of my loss of you. My loss of you, which can not be entered in the registers of Marx's dialectics, nor be encased in Steve Case's..."
     The letter breaks off, disappointingly, here. I have no way of discerning just how much of his ecrits was erased in transit. I can't help, I try to stop myself from, but after all I am a detective, wondering why he "absconded" so quickly after mocking my success. I don't doubt you'll think me mad, no, if you are truly my fans you won't, if I think it, that Pablo "absconded" so he can take over this column. Freed from the burden of his desire for posterity, in his writings he can abandon himself to the chimera of his musings with absolute candor. He concluded this column was his last chance at the big time, and concocted his own death so that his writings would end up with me, etc, etc.
     Knowing what a lecher he was, I wouldn't put it past him.

     to be continued...

Publications: Suitcase Magazine (containing the poem "the french sneeze" and translations from the Romanian poems of Paul Celan)

Email: semilianj@NCARTS.EDU

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