MInecraft: Solipsist: Beams (Emma Gambade, 2010)

Harrisburg (2nd Version)

I sat in a Greyhound bus terminal in
Harrisburg, & Stephanie Holt stood
twenty paces to my left; had, suddenly,
materialized there; skin glazed, forehead
protruding, as though she had philosophical
issues with reality... that night back in
Cheltenham, I'd sat in a car outside her
mansion, waiting for the deal to happen
inside I barely knew was there- now,
the mansion reduced to this redneck terminal,
& rednecks too- "It's always the same in
the end, Stephanie; I give you & your friends
a chance, & you blow it." She needs a new host,
I thought, like I need some new luggage-

"as if, Adam; as if I had any idea how to handle
you, or us, or what Cheltenham had turned into
by then. You: always special, always different,
always such a fierce disruption against our lives.
Remember- I never liked you much anyway.
There's no room for special people where I
come from. What's special is the order of
who gets placed where when, & why. So, as I
followed you out that stupid door, it's with
no special anything. Philosophy? Where I
come from, its this: where you come from is
who you are, whether you like it or not. You
were lower than us, lower, & still are, you little shit-
& that luggage you had was pretty cheap, wasn't it?"

Deep Noir '19

Recessional times, such as are currently being endured in the United States; times of financial, cultural, and general societal instability; are inherently dark. Dark times call for dark art; when it’s literature, dark writing. Sometime mid-century XX, the appellation “noir” was affixed to all forms of creativity heavily tinted with darkness, brooding self-consciousness, and chiaroscuro perceptions of the world. What "noir" signifies, in popular culture, is an aesthetic condition of extreme stylization. Look at the elements which configure, say, the average Raymond Chandler novel, and which do not change from book to book; stylized elements— a hard-bitten detective (Marlowe) pursuing a treacherous villain, encountering a standard, cemented-into-place cast of characters. There's the coy femme fatale, attached somehow to a criminal underworld or with underworld connections, seductive nonetheless; dirty and double-dealing cops (police officers), who may or may not be trustworthy, and in on certain hits, games, “rackets”; and innocent bystanders drawn into matrixes of crime and hustle against their will. What stylization implies, as a kind of mold for artistic forms to fit into, is homogeneity, and the solidity of homogeneity— we, as readers, need never wonder what to expect from Raymond Chandler. To the extent that more serious artists develop individual and individualized aesthetic concerns and formal-thematic, consistent topoi, stylization in their work becomes inevitable— this is how we know Picasso from Manet, Manet from David; or, in literature, Byron from Browning, Amis from Updike; etc.

If I am interested in "noir," and in poaching "noir" from American popular culture and granting it another context, it is because the stylistic elements of my literary interests share, in the kinds of moods, impressions, and ambience generated, something with noir, and noir stylistic conventions. The entire edifice of twenty-first century cultural Philadelphia coheres around a set of imperatives, which lean towards the revelation of shadows rather than light, dark tones and hues rather than bright ones, and labyrinthine complexities rather than scintillating clarities. Levels of cognitive awareness, represented in books and paintings which seek to boast some philosophical import, particularly in regards to ontological awareness in the midst of extreme (even pornographic) vulgarity, separate our Philly drastically from the rote, pop culture consonant facility of Chandler's books.

Indeed, the chiasmus between noir and serious, sustained intellection is, as far as I know, a novel mode of stylistic inquiry and exploration. One equivalent of Chandler's shocking plot-twists and peripeteias are linguistic innovations which multiply meanings and make key words and phrases serve dual, or triple, ends; so that these words and phrases are set in place, figuratively, to split the heads of their audience, towards recognitions of hidden semantic-thematic depth, and against surface ("surface-y") orientations and sensibilities. That is why I call this version of noir "deep noir"— Philly Free School art is crafted, on some semantic levels, from similar molds— towards chiaroscuro and the enchantment of multiple meanings. It is also easy to notice that the work being referred to is, in fact, haunted by coy femme fatales, dirty-dealers, and an interrogating, interrogative protagonist ("I"), who attempts to sift his way through mazes of psycho-cognitive, and psycho-affective, complications. The pieces shudder towards satori-like head-split semantic inversions; and whether any give satori ends its poem or not, the ultimate stylistic effect is to startle, unsettle, and re-wire the minds of the audience who reads them. Chandler, in a pop culture context sans intellectual heft, is far less unsettling. Century XXI Philly creates mysteries and remains centered in them, in a negatively capable fashion, while Chandler's level of stylization insures easy, unchallenging comprehension. Still, I like "noir" as a stylistic formulation here nonetheless, because this imagined landscape creates and maintains a shaded ambience, which is recognizably itself from artwork to artwork. I have spoken of the "body heat" passed from the twentieth to the twenty-first century, in spite of the new century's reservations— and, as one level of inheritance which takes what I have envisioned to a secure hermeneutic locale, "noir" and "deep noir" both work surprisingly well.

As to the issue of why, in 2019, a "noir" aesthetic, inclusive of formal-thematic depth, would be of wide interest once placed into circulation— the reason is fairly simple. On many levels and in many variegated contexts, few sensibilities other than "noir" could be generally and widely representative in America, against the facile breeziness of post-modernity. The Great Recession has created a climate, both within and without aesthetics, of entrenched circumstantial darkness and shadowy languor. Inspired or not by political developments (which seem to evince not only corruption but flatulence, at regular intervals), untold, unreported catastrophes may have wiped out entire sectors of the population— yet the media chirps away as though nothing has changed. American pop culture is in an advanced state of erosion and deterioration— there are no new rock stars anymore, and new American cinema not only isn't selling but is divested, for the populace, of the perceived glamour which used to enable it to sell. The secret passageways which used to make America interconnect have largely been severed; even as the Internet has created new labyrinths and passageways which often amount to a subversive conspiracy against the normative.

The truly noir facet of the Internet is that it allows the American public to understand how and why it has been duped; and what is left of a thinking American populace is cognizant of these things. What I call the Philly Free School (P.F.S. Post is Philly Free School Post) was created to hold down a cultural fort radically on the side of serious culture and thoughtful inquiry, scribed by individuals from within the bounds of the United States and elsewhere. For those watching closely, and who know how the American literary landscape has largely been configured over long and short periods of time, this congeries of circumstances is a rebellion and an innovation. That the Philly Free School is not only indigenously American (if standing, aesthetically, on the shoulders of historical Europe) but indigenously Philadelphian is another innovation— the creation of literary Philadelphia, in the twenty-first century, has to do with the noir elements already built into Philly as a mythological construct.

Philadelphia, much more so than New York (which offers, to experienced eyes, nothing labyrinthine beneath a bold, brusque surface) is perpetually ravaged by contradictions and conflicting internal imperatives— the Main Line surface/patina is all about the prestige of old money, while Conshohocken and King of Prussia boast world-class architecture; South Philly prizes blue-collar, ethnic simplicity, but falsely and disingenuously (against the complex and baroque machinations of an active South Philly underworld); underworlds also appear at least partly in other suburbs supposed to be middle-class, and standardized to American suburban norms, which they are only intermittently; and the architecture in Center City Philadelphia is also world-class. The "noir" sense, at the end of things, is that Philadelphia is a shadow-plagued city, and what you see is certainly not what you get here. The representatively Philadelphian surface/depth tensions are what make the city fertile ground for serious art, rooted in formidably intellectual narratives, slanted towards the stylized chiaroscuro of noir symbolization and signification.

Make no mistake— Philadelphia makes a more than reasonable microcosm of the United States, because Philadelphia has many things to hide. Every thoughtful Philadelphian has their own Philadelphia narrative. That Philadelphia is often misrepresented on the surface is one of its noir allure-features. Philadelphia, in fact, may be taken as the secret capitol of America, and much of America's internal darkness is exteriorized and embodied with precision in our labyrinths here. From a certain angle, for Philadelphia to produce representative American art is no stretch at all— higher art requires higher faithfulness to complex human truth. Because complexities are difficult, both to perceive and to assimilate, they are, or can be, dark. If my version of noir borrows stylistically from the likes of Raymond Chandler, the substance of the art is uniquely set within its own thematic manner/mode of confused, perplexing darkness. Yet attempts to unearth deep truth, when performed skillfully, are always cathartic, as pitiful and terrible as the deep ("noir") truth can be, and in this, this newfangled art finds its strength and metier.

The Melissa Ring

Melissa is another one who spent more than a year with me in Logan Square in the early Aughts: about fifteen months worth of nights. Melissa had a center-of-the-center efficiency flat, in a nondescript building at Juniper and Locust, but my flat was bigger and cozier. I would occasionally spend the night at Juniper and Locust, but usually Melissa migrated up to 21st and Race. On the other hand, Melissa's center-of-the-center economy was an interesting one; she related to me that she found herself constantly stalked and watched there. The view from the window of her efficiency was a parking lot several stories high; and she would see guys standing in the lot late at night with binoculars, spying on her. Mike's center-of-the-center experience, of voyeurism and voyeurism games, was not that different. Logan Square was pretty laissez faire in comparison, which meant you could relax there. Center-of-the-center action was, and is, all about intensity, but also deviance; some people like this kind of energy web around them, some don't.

Cordite, Tender Buttons

The Contextualists and Dissidents piece which was released in Cordite Poetry Review in December 2011, began as a graduate seminar paper, turned in at Temple in 2006. Cordite editor David Prater I met in Philly once in '09, and he crashed briefly at my Logan Square pad, on his way to Montreal. UK poet Michael Blackburn re-pubbed Contextualists and Dissidents on his Tumblr site Plunder and Salvage in early 2012; and the piece has been cited a number of times in other critical work from '11 forward.

P.S. Contextualists and Dissidents in Trove (NLA).

Poetry Incarnation '05

The story of Poetry Incarnation '05, the Philly Free School event held at the Khyber in Olde City Philadelphia on July 5, 2005, is a wry one. The primordial fact of the event was not evident to me and Mike Land until the event was underway: because the Khyber was on ground-level; anyone walking by on 2nd Street could look in and see what was going on; the chaotic, ecstatic frenzy of the Highwire P.F.S. shows couldn't happen. The labyrinth entrance to the Highwire, and its placement several floors up from street-level in the Gilbert Building, made it ideal for loosening up the inhibitions of a willing audience. So that, we got hype for Poetry Incarnation '05 (I had done an interview with Deesha Dyer of Philly City Paper from the Boston 'burbs about ten days before the event), lots of paying customers showed up, but beneath the surface, Mike and I knew that the basic premise of the Philly Free School (we offer you new kinds, forms, manners of freedom, so that you see what you can handle) was not able to be fulfilled. Mary & Abby couldn't make it; Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum was conspicuously absent, too. The most memorable performance, for me, was Hannah Miller's drunken screed about what Philadelphia meant to her. There was also some unpleasantness from the PhillySound poets; they expected to be a headlining act, and wound up reading without any particular fanfare, just like everyone else. They later claimed, falsely, that I "stole their money." All in all, Poetry Incarnation '05 was worth doing; it established us, P.F.S., as a public commodity in Philly; but was nonetheless not as much fun as the Highwire shows. Many years later, it is also noticeable that there was no one highlight to the entire Philly Free School experience of the mid-Aughts. The highlight was the sustained 2004/2005 peak of what the Highwire Gallery bothered to be in Center City Philadelphia; and how Mike and I managed to ride these waves towards a series of events that made the pursuit of real freedom the issue it should be among the human race.

The Adelphia House

For the duration of the mid-Aughts, Mike Land lived at the Adelphia House at 13th and Chestnut, here shown. The point of interest: what Mike was exposed to was a neighborhood which had no specific name; was, in fact, the absolute center of Center City Philadelphia. The center-of-the-center vibe was interesting: Mike's window looked down, from the seventh floor, at Chestnut Street; and what he would see, even at one, two, or three in the morning, was a constant fracas. Directly across the street was the liquor store from 1488; a few blocks away was Woody's, Philly's el primo gay bar, where the Free School pack would sometimes hang out. Yet Mike's window square was about a neighborhood and an intersection that never slept. Logan Square was relatively quiet at night, as was West Philadelphia. It is from the Adelphia House that we planned Free School moves like Poetry Incarnation '05, and the various shows we did at the Highwire Gallery. Incidentally, the Highwire Gallery, on Cherry Street between Broad and 13th Street, a few blocks from Mike (and in a neighborhood which, as of '19, has been partially re-zoned), was another center-of-the-center edifice, even as the vibe was slightly less of a fracas than the Adelphia House. By Cherry Street, Broad is turning into North Broad; yet from the Gilbert Building steps, the view of Philadelphia City Hall was stunning. From the Adelphia House windows, which faced south, no dice. What Mike had going, at the center-of-the-center, which Mary & I did not, is the sense of Philadelphia as a great raging beast, constantly churning, constantly in motion; and Mike's life at the time was a ricochet of the same energies.