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Thus Spake the Corpse: An Exquisite Corpse Reader 1988-1998: Volume 1: Poetry and Essays written by Andrei Codrescu


Thus Spake the Corpse: An Exquisite Corpse Reader 1988-1998: Volume 1: Poetry and Essays written by Andrei Codrescu


Before suspending publication earlier this year, Andrei Codrescu's controversial and notorious anti-literary literary magazine Exquisite Corpse had become a primary site of engaged dialogue among the non, brain-dead everywhere. Founded in the 1980s on the belief that "American literature, poetry in particular, is sick from lack of public debate, " Codrescu's Corpse took its title from cadavre exquis, a form of collaboration once much practiced in Paris surrealist circles.

Rebellion, passion and black humo became the journal's trademarks. Anti-conformist polemic, poetics of assault, high-tone bohemianism, muckraking speculation, seditious attitudinizing and wandering reports from the front lines and back alleys of the culture jammed each issue, framed by elegant columns of top-flight new poetry.


Before suspending publication earlier this year, Andrei Codrescu's controversial and notorious anti-literary literary magazine Exquisite Corpse had become a primary site of engaged dialogue among the non, brain-dead everywhere. Founded in the 1980s on the belief that "American literature, poetry in particular, is sick from lack of public debate, " Codrescu's Corpse took its title from cadavre exquis, a form of collaboration once much practiced in Paris surrealist circles.

Rebellion, passion and black humo became the journal's trademarks. Anti-conformist polemic, poetics of assault, high-tone bohemianism, muckraking speculation, seditious attitudinizing and wandering reports from the front lines and back alleys of the culture jammed each issue, framed by elegant columns of top-flight new poetry.

Publishers Weekly

The feisty, informal journal Exquisite Corpse gathered a remarkably loyal bohemian following over its 15 years of existence, ceasing paper publication in 1998. (It's now a frequently updated Web site). Founder, poet and NPR commentator Codrescu and co-conspirator Rosenthal offer up a large inventory of their favorite essays, diatribes, letters, responses and poems from the Corpse's last decade. Thus Spake opens with 142 pages of essays on political and literary topics: writers assail predictable targets (Ronald Reagan, Puritans, Wendell Berry), or else meditate on androgyny, sex before Clinton or poetic activism after Ginsberg. Along with the sometimes-ranting essays, the editors do well to include the often more reasonable letters of response. Objectivist poet Carl Rakosi reflects on the heyday of American Communism as he answers Eliot Weinberger's program-piece; Murat Nemet-Nejat, Clayton Eshleman and Ben Friedlander engage in vigorous debate about Edmond Jab s. The Corpse was well-feared among poets for its "Body Bag" section, comprising the editors' comments on submissions they had rejected. Thirty pages here reprint the Body Bag's famously sarcastic, sometimes elevated, remarks. The volume's weakest part is the poetry itself, 200 pages clogged with talky mediocrity. Strong work does turn up from Anselm Hollo, Hayden Carruth, Edmund Berrigan and Alice Notley (separately and in collaboration), and from the late Jim Gustafson and Elio Schneeman. But much of the rest of the verse here is neither sexy nor accomplished, a slapdash, too-generous roundup of popular styles from post-Beat to pre-slam eras. But the many diehard Corpse fans may not mind; thrill-seekers might even like it. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.


Chapter One


Scientific tests in poet-Chomskyan generative linguistics have demonstrated conclusively that beyond the splurge of consciousness we pass from a pure logic & phenomenology to physiology if we wish to maintain an equivalence between concept & remembered image, & within that shifting morphology the suprasegmental accuracy of represented metamorphosis may well be reduced via narratology by what Daniloff calls "the partially digested subjective." In lay terms, for the would-be artist:

    FORGET YOURSELF. Do not take yourself seriously, including Ideas, no matter how achingly ultimate they seem, nor how their cloudiness turns into a Noah's Flood of clarity.

    Become a beakful of mud with hands & ears & eyes, a mouth to drink coffee with, & memory. No more. It's amazing how difficult & deceptive the task of divorcing care & self is. We are all aware, with a sort of painful, gay laughter suspended in boredom, how artists inferior to or more naive than ourselves display everywhere, blatantly but unknowingly, a childish need to put themselves in a good light. Even when they're putting themselves down, they're semiconsciously crying out for adoration. It's this distraction that makes most art less thrilling than a dying squirrel.

    We, as mature artists, feel we have transcended ego-taint in our work. But in fact the entire world-interface of anyone in every tiny detail is interwoven with piranha swarms of image need.

    Children carry this like another few inches of transparent flesh. Then it sinks in, & the more adult we become the more it's part of our Very Fiber. It takes a thousand guises, emerges under masks of unvarying virtue.

    "My heart reaches out to these poor people. They're figurines of Sorrow. Let's go home."

    "I know a place of peace & beauty, faraway, some day."

    "I adore her. That's all that matters."

    These poor objects of love don't get to exist, except as puppets of mealy-mouthed fingers. What exists is falsified pastels of the self sloshing all available receptors.

    OR: "Sittin' in the kitchen." All of my poems begin with these four words. & I stole them from my friend Richard. Too beautiful to think up. By means of them, I constantly wish to image forth these things, about myself:

    1. I'm direct, no-nonsense.

    2. I'm a keen observer ("sittin'").

    3. I'm colloquial, folksy, colorful, down-home. Sittin' in the kitchen.

    4. I'm economical, with words & life.

    5. I'm musical.

    6. I'm in tune with the warm, feminine center of things. Sittin' in the kitchen.

    7. I'm humorous.

    8. & I'm hungry.

Well! This winds up to be watered-down Br'er Rabbit. Desperation patches on blue hollow.—Could be worse. Art's inconvenient.

    Artists have studied out positions wherein they can have a little fun with their backs to the wall; dance about with kitchen doors glued to their shoulders blades. Their whole deal is to be a step ahead of laughter, play The Fool via planned obsolescence. A total idiot, whether the condition be natural or gained by means of much study, as in the religions, can't do things, which is what artists do. That is, things. Purity never moves.

    You might, at this point, go half-blind by feeling your face light up, not too much but just right, at the prospect of compromise, but that's just a bad word. Forget it. Unless it's a matter of multidimensional interexisting spheres. Unworldliness, which is what compromise leads to, is just a Gothic happy-face of zombie-white sentimentality. Black Hole of sugar. An artist has to be integral but nonrepeating, all-of-a-piece like a starfish.

    Artists are like unpredictable Wall Street pirates who hack around with some genuine pigiron but protect, inside, this snow white egg-shaped synapse town of beautiful retardism so it's unhurt by the gorgeously cruel world & yet functions in every string of their Thing, sometimes. This is getting hard to picture, which may be because it's all wrong. It's certainly hard to do. Artists whine a lot, but they seek novel whines.

    You really need a 3-D computer screen for this, & that's why nobody ever digs the graphics well enough to get a further insight. Meanwhile, this tender, icy synapse-egg is maintained, in terms of ordinary hydraulics, & functions like a thermostat. Its humanoid shell is both more & less human than the average, depending on what "human" means.

    All language emits the metallic stench of statement. The statement is invariably the person of the statement-maker. So you might as well just start playing around, & play hard. This is nobility.

    Charity is a cheap shot. It's as if by throwing 86 cents on the ground you have a brick. Or by saying "Brick" you become one. The magic of names is much more expensive. You may become electrically connected to a brick by forgetting the name. You may become electrically connected to a poem by keeping the name & forgetting what it means. You may pick up a brick & throw it. At me. I need the attention. But don't worry, because all these insights are perfectly sound.

    These insights are boiled in a selfless hot ether, painstakingly plucked from the wisdom surrounding decades of sincerity, & dressed in a clever motley.

I have a dream.

I mean, y'know what I mean? I mean, I've been making choices here, forsaking my food and exercise, on the basis of a perfect crystal of goodness, which you didn't realize. But now it's time to reveal this as a personal essay. But don't worry, I know what I'm doing. Don't worry. It's not that I can't practice what I preach & forget myself. I can. I just don't want to right now, because I'm willing to sacrifice my dignity for your edification, & besides I have another, perfect dignity just below the one I'm tossing away now.

    Actually, what I'm doing, in a sense, is cunningly bucking the tide of your latest perception of the intentional fallacy's borders by jumping right into it. Know what I mean? Like, the intentional fallacy's where sincerity makes liars of us all. You know, declaration runs us stone-blind. But if you just turn around & get double sincere, then you fool the system because you use something that got blocked off, which is good (sincerity, y'know), but you're outside too so you don't partake of its preachy crap. It's kinda like the camp appreciation of "White Christmas" jingling back into a yellow haze. So, anyway, that's what I'm doing.

    Sure, I'm not the first, I'm just in the breeze. Opposites are alike, uh-huh, but it's the twist of the knife that cuts the mustard. I really know what I'm doing. But doesn't this make you just a trifle nauseous? When I say that? Sure, & I know that. That's what I'm doing. & the way I stay on top of your nausea is this: by telling you about it! I know what you're thinking. Like sticking the bridal pair on top of the wedding cake. What can you do (don't tell me)? Like, chattering like an idiot savant in the five-&-dime. Stupidity has its beauty (which gets old because it's so damn eternal), but when you get into off-stupid, like falling off a rope, you're approaching sub-stupid. Aha, the alpha state. Right? But when lad tell you this, I mean, it falls right into Ezra Pound, &, y'know, rhythm can go anywhere. The whole purpose is to get into what you know. Basic chatter.

Let's take a breath. An attractive version of knowledge, poetically now, would be in the field of ranching tips, or community finance. Textural acts as beautiful as cellular fission, slicing then from now. But all these varieties of barbwire fence & Brooklyn Dodger candy bars are attempts to paint yourself up so as to resemble the off-white solidity of a hospital bed. Yes. I wanna cut right through that. I was born, & I'm twice-divorced but it wasn't my fault. In fact, in the last analysis, these divorces were all a beautiful adventure. I've actually extracted gristle, from fake wood, in a living graph that whispers "beautiful adventure," like a telephone line to your dream's bathroom, because I'm a bloody beautiful guy. My hand would be steadier castrating a pig, but that, & the breakfast afterwards, & the old beige farmhouse, are all categorized by now. True truth lies in what's ordinarily swept under the bridge & called "pettiness," really curved light when you just take a minute of your time & look at it.

So, articulation never builds its own floor. You might as well give that up. I mean, history is nice if you just want to be a sideshow type like Metternich.—But let me tell you some more about myself.

I'm idealistic in a sort of golden way that I cherish because of its sheer nobility, but I'm also vividly colorful & as realistic as a brown bear, in a very attractive total melange. I understand everything. The fact that I haven't attracted an unruly cadre of slavish cognoscenti, or even one fan, is simply due to the fact that I'm ultra-subtle & ahead of my time, & I pad beautiful lost trails in my lone-wolf sorta way.

    I'm also very youthful & vigorous, basically, but at the same time old & wise, not to mention "in the middle," which is very balanced & good. I'm even sorta crippled & not crippled, like Lord Byron, depending on my mood. I mean, it's totally real, & I can back it up, but if you were to ask me about it, which nobody ever does, I'd answer in a kindly but objective manner which certainly wouldn't exceed 3 or 4 hours, include some medical terms. I've been very heroic about it & I never speak of it, because all I care about is positive things. It's very interesting though. Also I'd like to mention frankly that I'm good in bed, take my word for it, I'm referring to fucking y'know—at least I used to be before being melodramatically "mugged" by my tragic illness, which had nothing to do with drinking. Nothing goes to my head. My shit has a rather pleasant farm aroma.

    Don't misunderstand me & crowd around wanting to touch me & suck my brains, I really don't have much time, but that's all part of it. Y'know I have a lot of courage, y'know, to stand up here & talk like a Beautiful Fool (but not the specious kind) so you all can learn to find happiness in your lives.

    Am I happy myself? Oh yes, yet in a way that includes deeply post-up-to-date gut sorrow.

    However, my delicate sense of modesty, resembling in many ways the italianate shapeliness of ultimate light & shadow, draws me away from this frank discussion. Back to art, not that this only seeming digression wasn't, in its blend (but not blend in the homogeneous sense) of outrage & buried euclidishness, a vegetarian spaceship looking down on the postmodern. It was.

    Art, it has been amply demonstrated, is the justification, in flipped hindsight, of civilization. Might as well try it. It's almost as pretty as everything else. Now. You're gonna have ego "problems." So just deny them! Present-day psychology has amassed just enough knowledge that its recommendations are all ass-backwards. It's like the discovery of pus.— Oh wow, it's real, let's turn the whole body into this stuff! Forget that. They're at that stage where you act free by precepts, the quivering light-green edge of age 13. The only thing that saves hipness is the breathtaking beauty of its lies. Here are my recommendations. Let your need to wallow in self-pity (which is just another chemical) emerge in convoluted petty ways that really make people work to halfway pigeonhole because they're so simple. That's it! You lay eggs on people's hands while they're holding on to something. Simplicity itches to become complex. I could just spit on the floor & tell you about geranium seeds &/or artificial colors but you're probably not ready for that. You've got a wire through your throat. Nothing is what we think it is: a big zilch. Can't tell where it's coming from. Take my "word" for it.

    So back to forgetting self in art, you realize of course that my apparent trumpeting of self is in fact a real trumpet, golden brass & spit & bell-motion, much more self-transcendent than the pretensions of Objectivism, since I knowingly cast myself into the perspective of a whiff of comic figure, which in turn is pure atoms.

    Forget yourself in art. Exceptions prove the rule because they're like weird faces that pop & swirl up when you're not looking. You may think you know this, but it's dumb of you to think like that. I've discovered that to be so, like a diamond. I discovered it in Western Springs, Illinois, on a roller-coaster hall of mirrors, the very first day. I was the center of the universe then, thinking about sex with a package of hot dogs. Going Hey bop a lula boppa spiffety bam dee bop a lula bop a libbidy-do.

    Thank you.


Proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities
for a Working Class Revolution


The Party is requesting $978,150 in support from the National Endowment for the Humanities for a new initiative designed to serve a broad constituency including serfs, workers, plebeians, wage-laborers and the wretched poor. The goal of the revolution is to identify class antagonisms and foster the class consciousness of the oppressed currently under-represented by the State. If this pilot program is successful, the Party would like to continue the Revolution until the State is overthrown or funding is eliminated.


To say the Emperor has no clothes is to pander to bourgeois culture which is, after all, mere training to act as a machine; however, to rephrase this in the language of class conflict: the old boy is buck-ass naked.

    The need for a workers' revolution is part of the larger historical picture which foresees the inevitable decline of late capitalism or K-Martification. Everywhere the exploited masses are made to scurry to the ever-receding beacon of the Blue Light Special while the tottering bourgeoisie crouches precariously on its well-larded haunches, sucking the sweet syrupy life-blood of a seemingly endless supply of Slush Puppies and feeding the masses the cold crushed ice. The opportunity of a revolution will unite the fettered masses and forcibly imprison the bourgeoisie into the Betty Ford Clinic of History.


We call for immediate and staggering action! There can be no substitute. To this end, the Party has developed a highly explosive Seminar and Study Program to launch emergent revolutionaries into the rhetorical melée. The aim is to link some of the most incendiary and well-paid scholars in Revolutionary Studies with bona fide lumpen proletariats. (This is not to recapitulate the false dichotomy between physical and cultural work but simply to recognize that some workers—the oppressed mechanic, for instance—crank wrenches, while others—the embattled professorate—wrench cranks.) In a series of really strident colloquia, the seminar group will focus their attention on several volatile issues including the relation of intellectual capital to monetary capital and consequent salary hikes among academics, the rise of the intelligentsia to senior-level bureaucratic posts, and the need for these posts to garner private incentives such as mobile phones, private physical fitness trainers and off-shore banking. And, if there is time, we will also discuss strategies for mobilizing the slumbering populace—no obstacle is so great that it can't be theorized!

    Within the program year, or directly following it, we foresee issuing a highly provocative monograph or series of white papers (the format to be determined in trenchant debate) which might fan the flames of revolution and uncover the need for new funding to support additional seminar groups, thinktanks and round tables around the colonized globe. In subsequent program years, and in keeping with our commitment to involve the workers at every level, we will issue highly inflammatory rhetoric in class-specific mediums: fortune cookies, box tops, food stamps, beer labels, as well as condom and feminine hygiene packaging. (This carries the additional benefit of creating a synergistic link between revolutionaries and the guild masters who produce and are alienated from these fine products.)


If we are to use the master's tools to take apart the master's house, we must never forget the spiralling costs of hardware and building supplies. Thus it is the goal of the Party to support all insurgents at all stages of their intellectual and financial development. And we will continue to identify emergent revolutionaries in an attempt to make them more profoundly aware of the grant cycle and the full range of support available through matching honoraria, Fulbrights, pledge drives and celebrity golf tournaments.

    The Party respectfully and earnestly requests the National Endowment for the Humanities to become its partner in this revolution and lurk in ambush against the brutal capitalist stooge.



Translated by Kirby Olson

Nothing is more ordinary today than political poetry. It developed during the war clandestinely, and now it proposes to survive.

    I would like to articulate a first principle.

    There is no possible human being who should not have put themselves to the test, who deserves not to try, or who could not have done so happily.

    I have before me an unpublished poem from the insurrection: everything that the rage for liberty causes in the head of an eighteen-year-old cries out in these verses: We will throw our heads to the corners of the outer limits, they say. The remainder is of a fiery inspiration. It has such a true violence, I cannot help myself from rejoicing.

    That said, I cannot see any reason not to underline a second principle: which touches in particular on this war.

    This war is being fought against a system of life of which the literature of propaganda is the key. The fate of fascism is slavery: among others the idea is to reduce literature to mere usefulness. What does useful literature signify other than to treat human beings as raw matter? For this sad work, in fact, literature is necessary.

    This does not mean the condemnation of any genre more than the party line, the orders from above. I only write authentically on one condition: to not give a damn for anything or anybody, to stomp on my orders with both feet.

    That which spoils the game, which makes a writer weak is the concern that he should be useful.

    Every woman and man should be useful to her or his pals, but becomes disgusting if there is nothing in her or him above Utility.

    The fall into utility, through shame, when divine liberty, uselessness, has a bad conscience, is the beginning of a desertion. The field is left free to the clowns of propaganda ...

    Why not accuse in these circumstances the place from which every truth springs, the fact that literature in a fundamental fashion refuses to be useful. Being the expression of man, of the essential part of mankind, it cannot be useful, in that man, or at least what is essential in him, cannot be reduced to utility. Sometimes a writer falls, tired of solitude, letting his voice mix with the mob's. However he cries with theirs if he wishes, if he only can—whether he does it through fatigue, through self-disgust, it is still only a poison to him, but he communicates to others this poison: fear of liberty, need for servitude! His true task is the opposite: to reveal in solitude the intangible part that no one can ever enslave. A single political goal corresponds with his essence: the writer can only engage in the struggle for liberty, announcing the free part of ourselves that cannot be defined by formulas, but only through the emotion and poetry of harrowing works. Instead of fighting for it, the writer should use liberty, incarnate as a minimum every liberty in whatever it is that he or she says. Often it is this liberty which destroys him: it is this which makes it the difficult. But it is this that he is obliged to love, this proud and fierce liberty, hardy and limitless, which sometimes leads to death, which even loves death. It is this that the true writer teaches—through the authenticity of his writings—the refusal of servility (and especially the hatred of propaganda). It is for that reason that he refuses to go along with the mob and that he meets death in solitude.

First Published in Combat, 1944

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Title: Thus Spake the Corpse: An Exquisite Corpse Reader 1988-1998: Volume 1: Poetry and Essays

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