ANGELA GENUSA Reviews
Barf Manifesto by Dodie Bellamy
(Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, 2008)
Like Eileen Myles, I hate to puke. I refuse to puke. Anything but puking. Yesterday, I felt a little nauseous for some reason, so I went to lie down and wait for it to subside. I fell asleep and when I woke up the nausea was gone. Later that evening, I went to a friend's house and drank a glass of wine, and on the way home I felt a little nauseous again. Imagine the irony then when I checked my mailbox on the way in the door, and there was Dodie Bellamy's chapbook Barf Manifesto.
I saw down with Barf, immediately taken with it, and could see I was going to have to read it in one sitting. But after the first two pages in which she describes Myles' "Everyday Barf," I began to feel really nauseous. The essay describes the serial seasickness on the commuter ship Myles took between Provincetown and the mainland. Bellamy's description of Myles' trip -- and indeed the entirety of Barf Manifesto does exactly what she says Myles' "Everyday Barf" does: it locks us into the claustrophobic intensive of Bellamy's "now."
Barf is divided into two sections, "MLA Barf," and "CCA Barf." "MLA Barf" was written as a paper on alternative forms of memoir for the 2007 Modern Language Association conference and is a keen analysis of Myles' "Everyday Barf," the essay that concludes Myles' poetry collection Sorry Tree. "MLA Barf" is a roiling, stomach-churning defense of "barfing" as a literary form. "CCA Barf" is its sequel, delivered as a lecture at the California College of the Arts. The two papers honor Myles and her brilliance at bringing the "now" of the body into writing.
Bellamy states that she is out to "attack the essay" and "shit on academic pretension," and she does so by spilling her guts in an essay form that is anything but pretentious.
Bellamy takes the disorderliness and sloppiness of the body and its basest and most uncontrollable of functions -- vomiting as well as shitting -- and ties them in with a manifesto on writing that is feminist as well as artistic. From a short section recalling an incident at a birthday party with Myles' bashing a horse pinata until its belly explodes, to a hilarious incident where Bellamy has clogged Myles' toilet with shit, the entire dossier is a visceral romp through writing through the body. Even a mention of Lynnie England ("the vicious slut employed as a guard at America's notorious Abu Ghraib concentration camp in Iraq") conjures up the now famous images of the prisoners, reduced to nothing but naked bodies smeared with blood, feces, vomit, and other bodily excretions.
It is only critics like Ramsey Scott who can boil down Bellamy's manifesto into anything that remotely reeks of academic language: "Bellamy asks us: how can sloppiness become an intellectual stance, a methodology with its own aesthetic and political priorities? How might a permeable editorial screen that allows for error, parataxis, and the non sequitur serve as the basis for a kind of hybrid writing that is at once critical and autobiographical, factual and fictional? What does it mean to insist upon the disorderly as a means of cultural critique and political engagement?"
Barf is an intestinal roller-coaster ride that loops and lurches through complex territory, stopping along the way to process themes like friendship, mother and lesbian love issues, sickness, death, visual art, and even fashion. She upchucks on the Professor Xs of the academic world, who she says destroys students' souls with instructions for creating formulaic, dead writing that turns them into zombies with no visceral connection to their writing.
If only there were more manifestos like Bellamy's and fewer academic papers loaded with pretentious, bullshit language, writers -- whether beginning or accomplished -- might be able to create writing that rips your guts apart rather than worship the academic porcelain god with fake, pre-molded, gag-toy vomit.
Angela Genusa was born in 1961 in East Lansing, Michigan. She is a writer, poet, visual artist, video/film maker, photographer, and musician.