The Black and Red Interviews

Felix Bernstein & Vanessa Place


The Russian Civil War (1917-1922) was a multi-party conflict between the Bolsheviks (Red), and the anti-Bolsheviks (White); the White Army included pro-Tsarist and pro-democracy factions, and both Allied Forces and pro-German forces worked on behalf of the White Army. The Black Army was an anarchist Ukrainian force that supported the pro-Communist Bolsheviks. In these two interviews-in-one, Felix Bernstein and Vanessa Place discuss the current state of internal literary warfare, especially around questions of power and authority, such as Marxism and rape. And, of course, their current image.

Are we not all walking citations?

Have you seen the new Venus in Furs?


Felix Bernstein: We both share a fascination with the recent Disney movie Maleficent and have talked about how interestingly it can be read both as a conventional mother-daughter love story and also as being full of lesbian S-M pederasty. Do you like to be read both ways? Are you okay being seen as sweet and maternal, or anyway: queer and progressive?


Vanessa Place: Who cares what I like? It’s what you want that’s important.


FB: What I want right now, more than ever, is to just have this one boy, Willie, love me. I pursued him for two years then finally we had sex, just once: the sex seemed to be ecstatic, seemed to create a feminine jouissance that removed from phallic jouissance: seemed to remove from the Symbolic law altogether. Can I get this back? Right now I send these mass messages out to almost everyone I can find on about twelve different sex apps. Will I ever find the One?


VP: No. But you will probably find the dozen.


FB: Maybe the better question, then the one about the One, for you, then is: do you have any idea of escape? You’ve rightly been called a structuralist and a nihilist. What’s interesting is that given your generational position, you have drunk none of the kool-aid of transcendental escapes vis-a-vis transgressive identity politics or communist rhetoric. The great thinkers of Lacanian structuralism right now like Zizek and Badiou and their followers feel that their structural knowledge will lead to some sort of resurrection or reawakening to Marxism as the greatest Good (for Badiou) or at least to a collective despair that nonetheless brings about Marxism as the lesser evil to capitalism (for Zizek). Yet your structuralism seems to lead nowhere. Is there any transcendental haven for you? Was there ever one?


VP: As you may know, in Germany in the 1970s, the revolutionary move was to rob banks, kidnap, and occasionally assassinate bankers, industrialists, the greater burghers. And to bomb, or threaten to bomb, police stations, press empires, and U.S. military installations. The targets were obvious imperialists, along with some former and less repentant fascists. So I understood even as an American child in Germany that the terrorists had a point. I believe this precludes the idea of a haven. At the very least and best, one may have a point. So I’m not interested in homelands or belief systems, or pimping a Paradise: I am just interested in the scaffolding. And the situation of the bomb and the bomb-maker.

As an aside, it is interesting to see how people tend to be when given a choice between the truly radical and the tried and true. We mostly like our conversations and engagements as casually flattering and group-conformist as our hairstyles.


FB: Somehow I see you like Maleficent, reigning over a radical faerie garden with a newly awakened bride. But that might just be sheer fantasy on my part. After all, Disney Movies are far from reality.

VP: Have you seen the new Venus in Furs?


FB: Yes. Polanski’s film starts by showing that even the woman’s feminist critiques and re-readings of the book and condemnations of the playwright are themselves still chained to the master text of the book (to the law of the father) and that feminist critique is really just cute blabber (a point that parallels the one where you change female to male in the second sex), but it ends by suggesting that in fact the woman does have all the power is the deity and the male, nailed to his phallic authority (like Christ to the cross), is a suffering victim.  This of course invites being read as an autobiographical emblem of Polanski as crucified pervert. But it also re-enforced his victimhood and the status of the rape victim (the child) as being a dominatrix who actually seduced him, in a way that would surely provoke controversy/hysteria if the film were viewed in this light. 


VP: I disagree. It is a great unraveling of the male gaze as essentially a desperate attempt to stuff the abyss, but the abyss not only looks back, it mocks the pitiable hole that would think itself the abyss. It is a perfect rendition of the no-Woman.


FB: But who or what is the pitiable hole that would think itself the abyss? Is that the image of Polanski as martyr? Do you see the film as mocking the male director/pervert/predator’s gravitas?


VP: I think you can scratch out everything after “male” and you’ve got it. The male is the pitiable hole. Woman doesn’t exist, but man does. The man suffers from himself. Or from the lack of himself, the “so-to-speak,” so to speak.


FB: On the issue of Polanski and accusation, and more recently Woody Allen, among others: What happens to the unverifiable yet holy testament of the accuser when it turns out that their accusation is fictitious? Does it lose all value, or does it maintain a symbolic value?


VP: It should secure a different symbolic value, but tends not to–more it simply quietly dissipates, like a mirage. Signifying the desire, I suppose, for all accusations to be true. As I have said, each accusation reaches its destination.


FB: You mean it ends up signifying the desire for every accusation to reach it’s destination? Or are you saying that every accusation does reach its destination, even if the accusation turns out only to be a mirage? Also, before you said something like “why not kick them in the balls” instead of shaming, is the kick in the balls the way to sublimate the bloodthirsty rage and skip over the public shaming?


VP: Yes to both threads on accusation, though/and appreciate the “it’s” as that is inadvertently more accurate than the superficially accurate “its.” Sublimate? Perhaps, and desublimate as well. Public shaming is private shaming, the hot bit in the pit of the stomach, the way the mouth is suddenly too dry or too full of spit. What I am more directly suggesting is that there may be a more direct collective response, even if the ball-kick is metaphoric. Ie., why all the ex cathedra performativity?


FB: But what is more direct, more real, more authentic than naming names?


VP: Recognition of violence as such, a fidelity to the engagement.


FB: Do you mean: recognition of the violence of the accuser too? As in recognition of one’s own love of a witch-hunt? Or even of ones own hysteria-of wanting to kill the hysterical violent witch and be it?


VP: Yes, and the naming perpetuates this fascination without interruption—just irruption.


FB: Right. But wouldn’t an actual acknowledgment of violence maybe lead to a kind of libertarian bare-knuckle street battle?


VP: Maybe.


FB: Is that preferred to criminal justice system and moralistic shaming puritanical mobs?


VP: I am not opposed to violence in the name of violence. Are you?


FB: Does that not lead to a mafia system where there is no shaming or Law but merely an order maintained through violence, with the strongest fighter on top?


VP: I am not prescribing this in all situations. And how exactly does this differ from the way most communities currently exist?


FB: It doesn’t. But aren’t you hinting at a type of violence that isn’t merely mafia violence?


VP: Yes. Something that relies upon a kind of direct confrontation that might avoid the cabal, while relying on a larger order–there is perhaps a re-setting of boundaries that’s involved. That is, the proper ideological order, so that face can be strategically lost/preserved.


FB: You mean as opposed to using stigma, shaming, naming, medicalizing/criminalizing using a sucker-punch? Less permanently damaging more permanently educational. As in the quote of Masoch, the slap teaches more than the lecture?


VP: Yes, the slap carefully deployed (in the face of public taste). Otherwise, you’re just playing to the room, which is entertaining, but hardly educational. Or, to quote Jeff Koons, “You know, it takes a lot of confidence just to show your asshole.”


FB: Turning for a moment, to contemporary moment: the zeitgeist in all capacities- youth culture, the academic avant-garde, etc–reaching the NYTimes, thousands of twitter fans, and acolytes, Kenneth Goldsmith wrote, “twitter is the revenge of modernism,” referring perhaps to a shared disruption of the classically well-crafted and romantically sincere. It’s clear that you are after a kind of Modernism, as well, but an austere frightening one, not the kind of anti-Adorno slippage towards ‘let it be’ Cola drinking “Captain Beefheart is so cool” fancy that Goldsmith endorses. Is his mode of tweeting disruptive or just irruptive? And what are the current stakes of your breed of modernism?


VP: I think Kenny serves as a kind of eye chart to the contemporary: if you get him, you see well enough, at least to drive. That said, the revenge here might be rather the return of the repressed, the grand narrative that is served by seeing social media as simply a content distribution system, rather than content itself, or a medium itself. So modernism, with its medium-specificity and penchant for ironized fundamentalism, may indeed be having a laugh. But it’s a hollower laugh, with keener staging. Doom is mood, and ISIS the greatest video artist currently in play.


FB: What’s different about your brand of modernism is that it’s all about structure and form to an almost lethal degree. You totally have crossed out the Imaginary (where ego identifications are built and maintained through fantasies of subjectivity) and insisted rather always on the Symbolic (where the father’s law rules) as being all there is.  And I want to think about this in terms of the child’s articulation of abuse. An imaginary articulation reads: “I am being beaten [therefore loved] by my father” (identification with the victim in the crime scene). The Symbolic articulation is merely: “a child is being beaten,” the statement that names Freud’s 1919 study of this issue.

“A child is being beaten” is your articulation: a totally depersonalized omniscient view of the situation and this seems to be what Statement of Facts gives us, a disidenitication with any role in the situation, a zombie poetics that does indeed, bring the Real to clarity but only as a brutalized inaccessible leftover that exceeds the absolute rigidity of the symbolic fact. You are not the ‘dominant top/master’ but rather the disinterested Lawyer.


VP: A lawyer is not disinterested, but indifferent. The problem that Maleficent had was in the first part of her curse, in which she agreed that all who saw the child would love the child. Had that clause been omitted, she could have maintained her indifference as well as her interest. It’s the abstention from mastery that can oddly seem so masterful.

And escape, inescapable.



FB: In my work [Unchained Melody, Boy Crazy] I have donned the Imaginary tactic: “I am being beaten [therefore loved] by my father,” at least there is love in that phrase. So, I’ve identified with the victim role in the crime scene, crying/singing/tantruming about being beaten by my father; attempting to perversely upturn the objectivity of technical language around these issues. And I’ve attempted to reach a kind of hysterical ecstasis that removes from all symbolic systems and lands me in a utopian outside, a sophomoric/ridiculous sublime, the kind that characterizes the work of Mike Kelley, for instance. But I also inevitably have come to recognize that hysteria is only ever perversion by another name and that I am always feeding the father with my hysteria. And now, quite simply I am skeptical that the hysterical ecstasis that ends phallic jouissance is possible. If before I asked if escape is possible, and if I would find the one, now I must ask: is hysteria possible, today?


VP: Of course, and we have it in (and as) Facebook. The question you want to ask is whether the analysand is possible. I’m not certain.

You’ve asked me before how the hysterics on Facebook can forget the law of the father and avoid being perverts. There’s a bit of ship-jumping here, though, as the fact of the genuine hysteric is a fact that runs counter to perversion in the classic sense. So that Mike Kelley’s genuinely hysteric works are not the abject stuffed whatnots but the Kandor pieces, particularly the videos. In other words, you may be feeding the father, but that does not mean the proper father is fed.

More to the point of my finger-pointing, the ecstasy sought by the social media hysteric is mass hysteria, which is the point at which the return of the repressed is most manifest. Thus the trigger warning, thus the sobriety pledge, thus the daily parade of outrage and ambition: all we are are our symptoms, and we do love our symptomology. [1]


FB: Now, to totally go out on a limb here, I want to suggest that maybe there is something in the bleakness of your work that presents a kind of tangible adjunct to the intangible hysteria that is nowhere to be found. And with this I think we can turn to one of your influences. You’ve said that the three most important artists are Duchamp, Warhol, and Riefenstahl for bringing to art the quotidian, the economic, and the political (respectively). For me, it is Riefenstal who is the only one of those three artists who is able to give more than just an imaginary linkage of the symbolic real, that is to say- she moves beyond the traumatic realism that I have previously ascribed to you, which Warhol or Goldsmith would be indicative of. Traumatic realism, as explained by Hal Foster, can be found in Warhol, who was at once, “referential and simulacral, connected and disconnected, affective and affectless, critical and complacent, [feeling and unfeeling].”[2] Thus, Warhol realistically illustrates the mind of the traumatic subject. But someone like Riefenstahl moves out of fetishized trauma, and digs up a disturbingly large slice of reality: with all the disturbing implications of ‘politics’ left intact. In 2014, to offer up any sort of realism, would mean leaving behind exaggerated imitations of capitalist reification [that is the dumb Warholian impulse] as well as the naiveté of traditional realism (such as socialist realism) but rather to give like Adorno’s Kafka, a panoramic mimesis of reality (and a restoration of the priority of the ‘object’ over the subject).


VP: Perhaps there is an impossibility of the Real that is equally sublime? I’m thinking very loosely here of the Soviet, where there was no apprehensible divide between art and life in this way, or, put another way, where it’s no longer propaganda, but just proof. And, like the Sots, our proof is, or ought be, tinged with parody. After ideology, so to speak.


FB: You work is quite Warholian and certainly offers a real (thing in itself) encased in a symbolic authority (name of the author) but because of the bulk of ‘materials’ in your work, the seams that knit together traumatic realism bust open and something further is given, beyond fetishized trauma: a really realistic real object as opposed to an idealized fake clichéd simulacrum of the simulacrum dubbing itself as ‘Real’ in an attempt to appeal to consumers, critics, and curators. And here I wonder how you would see Riefenstahl to fit in with your work? In a way, she fails to offer any sort of gritty honest realism, since she promises utopian salvation, but since it can only be attained within the most stringent norms of mythology: it functions as an impossibility: we are bound to these impossible myths and there is no escape. And so while her work offers a negative critical purchase, she falls back, quite obviously, on propaganda, hedonism, and fascism: inevitably giving over the non-identical things-in-themselves to a totalizing mythic structure vis-à-vis propagandistic montage.


VP: Of course you understand that the Real is not realism as such, which some of my critics have confused, just as they confuse my interpretive refusal as a kind of rehabbed relativism. And this kind of idiocy leads to a critique of myself as thing—versus a critique of things themselves. This is where Riefenstahl proved herself more mythic than her own mythology: she became the mountain that tempts us to scale. Put another way, what people fail to consider is that it was her quite real technical genius that permitted her to produce her masterpieces. And vice versa.


FB: We are talking here mostly about provocative works. But unfortunately the only response to provocation is a response to the parts that appear to be personal attacks on bodies and appearances; and on brands. Often this is in the guise of defending a group identity but so often is basic egotism. People have Google alerts on their names. But I kind of love all the scandalous comments people leave as a trail all over art and criticism in its web presence, because I think it’s great to have resentful anti-intellectuals really have a voice! I mean think of how much better the world would have been if there could have been a Boston Review talkback forum for Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil in 1886. What has been your relation to the Facebook/comments criticism that your scandalous works have received?


VP: I adore it—it’s all the same to me. But it seems everyone is anti-intellectual these days. Anti-intellectualism is American intellectualism.

As an aside, one of the great reveals of Facebook is itself as platform and trap, the place where certain kinds of liberationists become obscenely censorious. Put another way, you need a battered woman in order to head a battered women’s shelter, and the communal edition always puts the squeeze on someone.


FB: In poetry, the stuff that people most reshare short fluffy articles about poetry that really say nothing but work the promotional apparatus. But then they seem totally in arms when an intellectual article comes out. In part because it demands and expects more of readers and that is annoying–and perhaps it’s because, the reader is dead (or at least is playing dead) at the moment. However, I think intellectual articles at least try and revive the reader but for that they look violent. Fluffy short pieces actually do the most violence by leaving us dead but they come off looking so neutral and necessary. I don’t think such things are neutral at all! Anyway, the way most poet intellectuals get around this is by making it seem like they are using their intellect for good: to promote a group of people or a political agenda. The idea of intellectual work qua intellectual work is totally disparaged. And I don’t think there is much room to freely think critically about a range of issues without reducing that criticality to Marxism or else to an inevitable promotion of somebody or some group.


VP: It’s the joke about Hitler, the 100,000 Jews, and the kitten.



FB: That is why I think Kill List (Josef Kaplan) got it wrong. It should’ve been Hot List. Kill List offended people in the most superficial way, they were offended by a spectre of violent class politics that haunts them but does not effect them, and that they are ‘supposed to be upset about’ but can’t ever really be upset about. Even the stakes of being killed don’t really offend, in an age of videogames. The truly central rallying point is the poet’s appearance and body. Or maybe just the kitten. So perhaps it is really the cute animal (and the sentimental meme) that is the quilting point for collective experience and thus the major critical blind spot for those on the politicized left (from Occupy to Obama). I guess it is fitting that Josef Kaplan has moved on to doing poems that feature animal abuse that have garnered more controversy than even Kill List did.


VP: I disagree slightly about Kaplan’s work: the problem for me is that in for a penny, in for a pound. Kill all the animals, blast the bourgeoisie. The conceit the offended poets suffered from was the haute conceit that their deaths deserve to be individualized, privileged in meaning, or at least in privacy. Apparently, even anarcho-Marxists would eschew a mass anonymous grave. But what could be more proletarian than that?


FB: One of many controversies this year in poetry, was a piece that appeared in the Claudius App written under the pseudonym “Jacqueline Rigault,” which detailed the rape fantasies of a bored poetry-audience member. In some ways, Jeff Nagy, the author, confronted the body zone in his Claudius App piece penned under a pseudonym, which he was later exposed for writing. And in the backlash it was made clear that a poet’s body ought not to be offered up to the public for consumption the way a celebrity is offered up to Joan Rivers on Fashion Police.


VP: You are wrong here. The poet’s body is quite available for consumption–witness the extraordinary number of poet-selfies (text and image) on FB and the Boston Review. What is objected to is the absence of the Poet as Author. Which is why so very many poems begin with the poet’s placement somewhere front of frame. Like any other paid product. Similarly, we are happily Eucharistic, so long as we get to play the goddish part.


FB: The piece, like the Claudius App itself, did not bother me, as it bothered others, for being hostile: but rather that it was passively inane: there wasn’t much going on involving work, labor or selection [and this ‘death of work’ marks it perhaps as being a prime example of post-conceptual poetry]. I mean you could say that it was built to seem like a mimetic reification of Facebook, with an underlying didactic suggestion that Facebook had replaced poetry.


VP: Or, as I believe, Facebook is poetry. Or at the very least, pseudo-poetry in the way the police are a pseudo-military organization.


FB: However, the App does nothing to take a dialectical position as regards the issue, nor does it mimetically become the object itself, but rather just participates, as it should, in the apparatus. Its ad homonym attacks and ‘critical dialogues’ were perhaps provocative but did not need a formal platform outside of Facebook to exist: that is the App was merely a symptom of the blurring of the lines between Facebook and poetry, Facebook and critique. Since Facebook itself already blurs those lines, rather brilliantly, the App failed to do anything more than culturally participate: therefore it was no different than any other dumb use of Facebook or a poetry journal. Thus, there is Nagy pretending to be the one blurring the lines or representing something ‘invisible’ to us. When he is really just going with the flow in the most inane way. One way to defend the laziest thoughtless and banal participations in the culture is to claim that you are ‘blurring lines’ and I’m thinking especially of the song ‘blurred lines’ and the way it was defended by its makers. I’m wondering if you think one can still insist on a difference between interesting mimesis and thoughtless mimesis, or if you think such a distinction is too old fashioned [old as Plato, in fact]?


VP: I think it’s the only difference that might matter. I hope this is not too much hope.

FB: On that note, do you disapprove of the aesthetic strategy that uses trite self-reflexivity as a justification for its propagation of pornographic tropes that might otherwise be deemed ‘oppressive?’ And here I’m especially thinking of Terry Richardson, who has only recently been thrown under the gun for making pictures that have been alleged to be documentation of actual rape. I’m thinking of him instead of someone like Jeff Koons because Richardson has had an appeal to the hipster and even the queer and feminist cultures especially within fashion and art. Thus he is not exactly an easy patriarch to unequivocally skewer like Koons or Dov Charney because he is ‘one of us.’


VP: Granted, it’s a stupid aesthetic strategy. But so is the coterie defense, the argument that a work must be ethically sound because the artist is queer, or progressive, or a good communard. If the work is ethically compromised or complex, so be it. The character of the artist or author is irrelevant. The danger to me is not that there is art that is morally contemptible, but rather that all of us—artist and audience—want to be absolved of our own complicity in its generation beforehand and in its wake. We need to stop being such pussies.


FB: Here, not to twist your statement into something more ‘friendly’, but I do think that what you are getting at is that when you are having a shooting party, expect to get shot; that sexual violence is what is prized and valued and normalized in our culture, even in the queer/feminist exceptionalist parts of it; and that our ‘shock’ over such scandals, as if it were impossible that they would occur ‘here’ ‘with us’ is offensive, in that it happens all the time (and you as a criminal justice attorney for such cases know this full well). And in fact, that such instances, of rape when they occur in these highly publicized ways, seem to make it seem like an aberration has occurred for us to ooh and ahh over (in what might be thought in this case to be a middle class televisual simulacrum) when in fact, rape is a daily fact in our culture, and most of us hardly give a shit about its occurrences in the festering pit of lower class slum life, except when we can use those instances as a moment to point the finger and revivify faith in the prison industrial complex. Perhaps, this is the circulating problem that critically echoed around your work: the claim that you made rape into a class issue. And perhaps, this is why it is ridiculous that we in the Facebook simulacrum will choose to have our delicate sensibilities ruffled by your use of the word ‘pussy’ here? Thinking, as we do, that we are above the slum life that is so prevalent in America?


VP: The slum’s just us, yes? Again, the beauty and desolation of America is to see all its phenomena as phenomenology. And so rape’s like ground meat—depending on one’s breeding, it’s either hamburger or steak tartare.


FB: I don’t think I can twist that one into something brighter. I fear you really do kill off interpretation at times. Which is an oddball sort of thing, since the conceptual poets, when you think of Kenneth Goldsmith for example, when they ‘kill off interpretation’ it’s a gesture that itself is so easily interpretable and made meaningful as some new variant of capturing the quotidian, some new variant of subverting the system by absurdly participating in it, it’s often Warholian to the max, and thus can be read as complicit, complacent, and/or subversive. But you—are you complicit, complacent, or subversive? You seem hard to pin down in this way…


VP:  Ne vous dérangez pas. After all, are we not all walking citations?


FB: In certain ways the Tao Lin ordeal repeats the Terry Richardson one. As Richardson had long photographed a scene that only by virtue of a retrospective parallax view seemed to spell trouble.  All was hiding in plain sight. In Lin the same story transparently confessed by him in one of his early novels has now resurfaced in the blogosphere as no longer Imaginary but ‘real’ and characterized as “horrific rape.” For better or worse, a turning point is indicated by the outcry.  However, this outcry comes with a new set of terminological slippages, since the blogosphere unlike the courtroom has not set its terms. In a court of law, the alleged facts of the case suggest statutory rape (and that charge would be valid only in some states). In contrast, some people have cautioned against splitting hairs between half-rapes (or half-racists) and the whole ones. I guess it is your job, as a lawyer, to split such hairs. Are these kinds of distinctions valid only legally?


VP: The law does not exist separate from the culture that enacts and enforces the law. Statutory rape laws exist because consent is a legal construct: certain kinds of consent are recognized by the State as valid (such as heterosexual adult affirmative and ongoing sober consent) and certain kinds are not (consent by a minor, by someone temporarily or permanently incapacitated, for example). It may be of some legal and ethical difference to have consensual sex with a 15 year old than to waylay a stranger in an alley, just as it may make some difference whether you abduct your own child or someone else’s.


FB: While some people have argued for the necessity of holding people accountable for their actions by airing accusations against them in social media, others have stigmatized this as vigilantism or libel.  That charge, in turn, is said to silence victims in favor of a modesty that rape victims, of course, are not shown.


VP: This is one of those moments when the word “alleged” is useful, and “victim” and “rapist,” less so.


FB: Someone writes on a public blog that the sexual abuse an author commits is matched only by those who support him in the literary establishment (then a review of his work by a young critic is quoted and called “slobbering”); further proof for the author’s poor character is that he is ubiquitously described as “bizarre” and “weird”; finally, a list is provided of people who – allegedly – have been raped by, or verbally harassed by, the author.


VP: There’s the “allegedly,” but why the dash? I wonder if “accused” and “accuser” could be used, or if this would upset the struggle here, or turn too fine a point on the point that this is so much about language itself.


FB: I mean, if a conceptual poet posted a piece which simply listed everyone in the poetry world and said one by one that they were a rapist, and tagged the people on Facebook what would we do then?


VP: Be outraged for at least 48 hours. Unless it was a Sunday…In one of the recent reveals, an accuser wrote: “He began caressing my arm and pressed his mouth against mine with feverish urgency.” Purple prose, that. The adjectival insistence as overwrought as the unwanted kiss itself. Make no mistake: these are fighting words.


FB: The slippages are immense here. Legally there is a distinction between accusations against public figures and others, as regards libel. Does this apply to social media where everyone seems to be treated as a public figure.  That is why there is a legal system, right? So people can be defended and right can be separated from wrong (though even on death row people are later acquitted)?


VP: No, the point of a legal system is to have a legal system. We have a social media system, which also appears quite happy to self-police, in the name of having a social media system.


FB: Yet: we can’t trust the cops or authorities do to right, so justice demands other remedies?

VP: Do you believe in justice? Where would you begin?


FB: Maybe some innocent people have to be thrown under the bus in the name of revolution? And then there is the case of O. J. Simpson, where some felt that his “actual” guilt or innocence could not be determined fairly because of the history of racist convictions of black men, that his conviction was another injustice no matter what the “truth” might be.


VP: I recall not too long ago when there was an outrage that a relatively well-known black actress was accused of prostitution because she was not too far from a track and sexually engaging with a white man. The usual allegations of police racism and profiling, etc. Which are also true. However, the larger ideological critique might be the systemic conditions under which many urban street prostitutes are African American women and many of their customers white men. Or here, that the outré that makes the alt lit day turns out to be a bit too dark, a little too sticky with its patriarchal lubrications. We get what we pay for.


FB: In one series of exchanges, an accused alt lit writer says he hopes to be humiliated in absolutely every way and have his reputation tarnished, anything: but please don’t bring the law into it. Is this admirable?


VP: Would it be admirable to call the cops? You tell me.


FB: People are saying now that alt lit is dead.  Was it always dead? What is it, even? Is there some alt lit that is queer and safe and some that is not?


VP: You are asking me about a brand name. It will be replaced by another brand name.


FB: I wonder what it would be like if the current “outings” for sexual harassment were carried over to relationships in the gay literary and art worlds. That seems unlikely, just thinking of St. Allen (Ginsberg), beloved particularly to the Bay Area crowd and nonetheless and out and out supporter of NAMBLA. It seems to me that within gay coteries nothing has changed since the 50s, the same boys club feeling reigns in part because gay men have never had to be fully accountable to the changes brought about by feminism.  Of course, there are the cases of Brian Singer and the actor who played Elmo, but within art and poetry, it seems that older successful gay men will openly treat younger gay men in a way that a straight man (in art or poetry) might even be more likely to think twice about.  Is it time the twinks had their revolution too?


VP: And here we get into a small historical distinction between the way twinks were fostered and sometimes mentored into becoming the gay men who would in turn secure the futures of future twinks, and the girls who never quite get that chance at a similar largesse—either catching or pitching. But again, this is a war of words.



Felix Bernstein debuted on YouTube with his real and satirical Coming Out Video in 2008 and went on to play characters from Amy Winehouse to Lamb Chop to Leopold Brant. His critical and uncritical writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Brooklyn Rail, Htmlgiant, The Volta, GaussPDF, Imperial Matters, Coldfront, Boston Review, The Believer, Lemon Hound, Hyperallergic, and Bomb. His first book Notes on Post-Conceptual Poetry is out soon from Insert Blanc Press With Gabe Hoot Rubin, he made the films Unchained Melody and Boyland. Together they directed and starred in Red Krayola’s opera Victorine at the 2012 Whitney Biennial, and lead the band Tender Cousins. He’s always on the nose at


The Boston Review called Vanessa Place “the spokesperson for the new cynical avant-garde,” theHuffington Post characterized her work as “ethically odious,” while philosopher and critic Avital Ronell said she is “a leading voice in contemporary thought.” Vanessa Place was the first poet to perform as part of the Whitney Biennial; a content advisory was posted. Other exhibition work has appeared at MAK Center/Schindler House, Los Angeles; Denver Museum of Contemporary Art; the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art; The Power Plant, Toronto; the Broad Museum, East Lansing; and Cage 83 Gallery, New York. Selected recent performance venues include Museum of Modern Art, New York; Detroit Museum of Contemporary Art; Andre Bely Center, St. Petersburg, Russia; Kunstverein, Cologne; Whitechapel Gallery, London; Frye Art Gallery, Seattle; the Sorbonne; and De Young Museum, San Francisco. Recent books includeBoycottStatement of FactsNotes on Conceptualisms, co-authored with Robert Fitterman, and her translation of Guantanamo, by French poet Frank Smith. Place also works as a critic and criminal defense attorney, and is CEO of VanessaPlace Inc, the world’s first poetry corporation.


[1] L.H.O.B.Q., V.Place, 2014.

[2] Foster, Hal. The Return of the Real: The Avant-garde at the End of the Century. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1996. P, 130.