I Used to Be Disgusted, and Now I Try to Be Amused
By Jack SkelleyDecember 1, 2023
JACKIE WANG AND NATASHA STAGG, Poetic Research Bureau, Los Angeles, November 28, 2023.
Poetic Research Bureau (PRB), in the multi-venue 2220 Arts + Archives, stretched its winning streak with a double book launch from Semiotext(e). Jackie Wang and Natasha Stagg pair well. Their new nonfiction texts defy type, swerving through diaries, reviews, blog blurts, Tumblr rumblings, essays, marketing copy, even poems (which, allegedly, Semiotext(e) does not publish! Good job sneaking yours in there, Jackie!). Both read a bit, then fielded keen questions from publisher Chris Kraus.
Wang, who teaches American studies and ethnicity at USC, has Alien Daughters Walk Into the Sun: An Almanac of Extreme Girlhood. A sprawling personal/pop-cultural index, it travels from early-2000s zine tales of being a “hard femme” and “alien Plath Girl,” through life in a Baltimore punk house, to grad school, psychotherapy, and finally the more “legit” career all this searching has won her. I’ve only just begun digging into Wang’s book, but I already enjoy its wild teens-and-twenties tales and free-range groping toward gender theory, including this epiphany: “I have phallic titties”!!
Then there’s that poem, “I Found My Soul at the Bottom of the Pool.” Wang read it. In the book, it follows the title chapter advising young, queer, female, nonwhite writers, or other “Alien daughters” to navigate lit-land without succumbing to victimhood. But her wisdom could apply to us all: “The more you hate people for winning the game, the more you will believe in the game yourself.” The poem tunefully transcends these contraries (Wang is also a musician) in a litany of self-discovery: “at the bottom of the pool there is a cocktail of all the best drugs / at the bottom of the pool there is here […] my life becomes distinct and spontaneous / i go to the place where i become pure transmission / transforming, sensual and holy / at the bottom of the pool.” Indeed, throughout her PRB performance, Wang infectiously beamed with the joy and gratitude retrieved from her pools of experience.
Natasha Stagg’s book is Artless: Stories 2019–2023. She read from the foreword and the final story, which both dive into the shimmering waters of art, advertising, and fashion to reflect on identity. “[T]he psychic experience of self-mythology within the cruelly optimistic metaverse of infinite branding” is how the jacket copy frames this paradox.
The foreword relates her interviewing a big-name model during a Paris photo shoot. It turns out Stagg’s work was pointless: “That we had failed to produce any bonus content and wasted so much time was terrifying, and so it was also exhilarating.” The ending story, “Wrong Turn,” relates being stuck in an Uber Pool with a driver who gets ridiculously lost in Manhattan because he’s distracted by a gossip website on his phone. What emerges is a philosophy of mishaps. Archly, ironically, without bitterness, Stagg plumbs the depths of marketing absurdities.
I googled Stagg and learned, amazingly, that despite immersing herself in the quotidian flotsam where we all swim, she is not on social media. I also found this quote: “Now, brands are people and people are brands. The way it keeps morphing and the way we use the word brand … it’s such a large word. In this kind of basic, dumb way, I've always loved it.”
There’s an old Elvis Costello lyric: “I used to be disgusted, and now I try to be amused.” Sound advice that could come from both Wang and Stagg.
My next trip to PRB will be the December 11 Los Angeles launch of Jason McBride’s Eat Your Mind: The Radical Life and Work of Kathy Acker.
Photo by contributor.
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