Glory Holes and Hot Tubs: Dan Hoy and Jon Leon in Conversation
Dan Hoy lives in Brooklyn and is co-founder of SOFT TARGETS, a magazine of art, literature, and philosophy. His publications include Glory Hole, published with Jon Leon’s The Hot Tub (Mal-O-Mar, 2009), Basic Instinct: Poems (Triple Canopy, 2008), and Outtakes (Lame House Press, 2007). His essays and poetry have appeared in Octopus, Jubilat, 3:AM, Action Yes, and elsewhere.
Jon Leon: So, I just read Glory Hole again for the first time in a while. Why the title Glory Hole when there are no actual glory holes in the book, unless the "masterpiece" that is "the frame I hang around my neck / and shove my face in" (from "Glory Hole") is a glory hole? What does the glory hole or the idea of a glory hole symbolize or represent for you?
Dan Hoy: The masterpiece is a play off of that image from one of your poems in Right Now the Music and the Life Rule, “Her hair is framing her face like it is a masterpiece”, with the face defined as a fidelity to a beauty that’s impossible. The masterpiece is always a miracle. But I’m exploiting the syntactical ambiguity to shift the masterpiece from the face to the frame, or the act of framing, of becoming the frame. To me there’s no real difference. But yeah it’s also a glory hole. The poems function as a glory hole. They act as both portal and partition, so a site of entry but also a barrier. Like if Dante’s entire human comedy was physically contained within the sign at the door that says “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” There is no space, just direct address, with a relentless antagonizing of the wall that divides intimacy and anonymity. They strip all context and speak to you in the face. But really I just decided one day I wanted to write a book called Glory Hole. This is mid-way through writing the book. It seemed like the perfect title, the words glory and hole crystallizing into this image of the glorious and the bottomless. The image as divine trauma, a kind of supreme ambivalence. I don’t mean just the concept of glory hole as an image, but the image as a concept in general. The first image is always the universe or the image of nothingness. All images are a reflection of the first image. In Glory Hole it’s called God.
I see these books as flipsides of infinity in orbit around each other but I know we haven’t really talked about it. For me the framing image of both Glory Hole and The Hot Tub is a circle, except one is empty and the other is filled with water. It’s like the difference between the void and the abyss. I’m wondering what the hot tub means to you as an image. For example does the circle function as a site of infinity, with water as the substance of life but also the way of life? I’m thinking of lines like “this world is totally liquid” but also specifically “He slowly parts with the cloud of immersed bodies” from the titular poem, where bodies move like water through a body of water made of bodies.
JL: The hot tub to me is a site of luxury and abandon. It’s a place that people go when they are just that drunk enough. It’s the first poem I wrote from the book. The title came to me after viewing a photo taken at Sundance of models in white bikinis sitting in a hot tub surrounded by the whitest snow. That it’s filled with water and human bodies is a financial concept in my mind. The idea of flows, money flows, and that money truly moves like water and is accessible easily even when one doesn’t have any money – one must simply place oneself between a transaction. The idea that the world is totally liquid is the idea of pure possibility, where everything is permitted and everything is within one’s reach. The vignettes in The Hot Tub are people coming together in a transaction. It’s like a ledger itemizing human interactions rather than financial transactions. The sun is always shining on these characters because "Solar energy is the source of life’s exuberant development." When people or a society have developed sufficiently they’ve created time. Austrian School economist Henry Hazlitt refers to it in Economics in One Lesson when he describes that a certain amount of unemployment is a good thing, because it means an advancement in productivity. Full employment, according to Hazlitt, is reserved for the countries that are most retarded. Time is for exudation, waste, as all profits are inevitably. Bataille turns rational economics on its head when he writes "that energy, which constitutes wealth, must ultimately be spent lavishly (without return), and that a series of profitable operations has absolutely no other effect than the squandering of profits." The Hot Tub is that reverie reserved for those advanced enough, immersed enough in the license of the market, to understand that waste is a condition of success. I relate this fact without a critical objective.
DH: I don’t know Hazlitt but I remember reading Bataille talking about the practice of potlatch among Native American tribes, where the objective is to humiliate and defy rivals through the spectacular destruction of your own wealth. Sometimes this entails slaughtering your own slaves. This seems apropos of waste as a condition of success. He uses the term “expenditure” for what he calls unproductive forms, or activities with no end beyond themselves. Things like luxury and war, mourning, art, etc. These are all characterized by a loss that must be as great as possible for the activity to take on its true meaning. So it’s about maximizing the opposite of return, attaining the most negative ROI possible. What’s interesting is he singles out poetry as being synonymous with expenditure. I’d say this explicit equating of expenditure and poetry is, if not the heart of your poetics, something at the heart of it. In Kasmir especially expenditure creates a field in order to perforate itself, so there are these moments of ecstatic infinity bursting through. But Bataille I think takes it in a different direction. For him poetry is a symbolic expenditure that does real damage to the poet. You end up becoming a reprobate or you renounce it and do something mediocre instead. Rimbaud kind of does both at once. A Season in Hell is basically its own announcement and renunciation. Blanchot’s take is that Rimbaud murdered poetry so it could survive, and Mallarmé says something similar: “He operated on himself alive for poetry.” It’s a strategic decision, and a poetic expenditure to the nth degree in that it expends itself to the last drop. There is nothing more to be lost. This idea of Rimbaud is like the first step. What Glory Hole tries to do is push the limit of negative return, or expand the opportunity beyond what can be lost, by taking this gesture of defiance and multiplying it against itself. In other words, what if Rimbaud felt the way he did, with a force strong enough to abandon poetry forever, and then kept writing anyway? But you could say this is exactly what Baudelaire is doing. It’s like the act of poetry as expenditure is a closed loop between the two: The next step after Baudelaire is Rimbaud, and the next step after Rimbaud is Baudelaire. But at the same time I view the excess of your work, especially Hit Wave, as very Whitmanian, like a French Whitman, rooted in a kind of cosmic exuberance and autoeroticism and fuck it nonchalance. I wanted to ask you about the prologue poem in The Hot Tub, how it relates to the rest of the book. Is it the same speaker? It reads kind of like a dedication to the reader, since it’s untitled and the only piece to use the 2nd person address, unlike Glory Hole, which is punctured throughout with “you”.
JL: I understood intuitively Rimbaud’s refutation of poetry and subsequent activities almost before I began to write poetry. So from the beginning of my practice I’ve courted the idea that poetry is something to be left behind, abandoned. With each successive book I’ve produced I’m getting further from poetry. My practice is a deliberate expenditure, or waste, of talent, in an effort to absolve myself of what I consider a pathogen. I want everyone to stop writing poetry. My prologue to The Hot Tub is indeed an attempt to speak directly to the reader. It’s the only way I know how to relate to the reader that poetry is not it. Poetry is not why you come to poetry. That prologue isn’t a creative work. It’s meant to say exactly what it says: love, music, being "on booze together," quite simply, life, is more important than this. Mediated by art and other forms of sublimation life is reduced to our perception of life. As far as my previous books are concerned I only know that there is a character named Brian Paul, the same throughout, who’s only aim is a draining away of excess energy by any means possible until the energy is finally dissipated and involuntary death occurs. If the things he does or builds or destroys are increasingly excessive it is because it requires more energy to do these things and hence brings him closer to a total liquidation of energy. He achieves this in Kasmir.
If you can talk about why "Everyday is Forever," I might feel like talking about sunlight and sand.
DH: Because it’s always today. Whatever day it is it’s today when you die. This is an instantaneous continuity that’s difficult to experience as fact. Agamben calls our consciousness of our experience of time “operational time”, or “messianic time.” This is the time it takes time to end, or the time between the announcement of the apocalypse and the apocalypse. To me this is really just the circumference of the moment: Right now is happening right now. “The kingdom of God is at hand” is just another way of saying “It is today today.” Paul in Hit Wave captures this experience perfectly when he says “My God I’m really here I say to myself.” The comprehension that life is the impossibility of life. This is what forever is. When I talk about the Now Wave this is really what I’m getting at. There are two nightclubs in Hit Wave: Kasmir and The Embassy. You wrote a novella called Kasmir. Are you going to write anything called The Embassy?
JL: I wasn’t planning on it but now that you mention it maybe I will. I think if I saw a different tone of light I would write The Embassy. The Embassy is under ground, or sand rather, and so I feel like it would be difficult to situate it within the parameters I typically work. Which is usually a response to ratios of ambient light in movies. I mean, that’s usually my jumping off point.
From a macro standpoint, I get the theoretical framework of Glory Hole. I wonder if we could talk about the details. Stuff like "I don’t mean to be a black box" from "Arizona or Florida," and the general attitude of Glory Hole. Like, you mention The Hot Tub as having a fuck-it-all attitude. I’d say Glory Hole has a who-gives-a-fuck attitude. What do you think? What were you reading a lot of while writing it? And also, how do you think these two books relate to this time and culture generally? We could talk about surface culture like fashion etc. or deeper shifts in the way people think and communicate maybe.
DH: I basically quit reading. I could stomach Agamben and one or two others and that’s about it. Mostly I watched serial TV on the internet and listened to the most brazen pop music I could find. I worked 10-15 hours a day, sometimes more. I was anemic as fuck and had been for years. The bright spot of my week was going to the oncologist to get tanked up on intravenous iron. I felt like a fraud sitting there with the chemo patients but I was basically the walking dead so whatever. I had no patience anymore for the kind of poems I’d written for a collection called Power Ballad, these long, wandering persona pieces, mostly dancefloors and celebrity, political conspiracy, sci-fi, ruined love. It’s like they were pop but not pop enough. I wanted something no bullshit. If the poems in Power Ballad are a critique of the world, Glory Hole is against even the concept of a world. So like the cruelest poems possible, but at the same time pop songs. Every line is a hook. It’s like some b-boy doing nothing but power moves. Only assholes do that. But it’s also the truth, like that line from “Kill the Lights”, “I drive like an asshole because it’s the truth.” I’m only speaking the truth from here on out. I think the line you quote from “Arizona or Florida” speaks to that also: “I don’t mean to be a black box / but I’m also not apologizing.” You could read that as the poems asserting themselves as emergent little death mechanisms. They’re not afraid to be a recording of the voice of God pulled from the wreckage. I’d say most poets are afraid to swing for the fences, if we’re allowed to use sports metaphors here. They risk nothing, when really you have to risk everything. Every poem is your last chance. I’ve talked with Ariana Reines about this in relation to Mal-O-Mar and I know you feel the same way: I’m interested in masterpieces, or miracles, and that’s it. I don’t have time for anything else.
I don’t know if I’m answering the entirety of your question, but my question for you is similar: I’m wondering if you could talk about how the surface referents of your work operate relative to the essence they evoke. I feel like the tactical strategy of your poetry and also Glory Hole is similar to advertising in its understanding of an image’s capacity to evoke a state of being or way of life, and how that reflects back on the actual thing attached to the image. Like the title of your poem “A Beverly Hills of the Mind”: it’s about the idea of Beverly Hills, not Beverly Hills – but there’s an implication that this idea of Beverly Hills is more Beverly Hills than Beverly Hills is. Badiou has this great quote in regard to Deleuze, a kind of conciliatory eulogy, that consolidates Deleuze’s thought down to one negative prescription, “Fight the spirit of finitude,” along with the affirmation “Trust only in the infinite.” I feel like your poetry is similarly aligned, and that to ask how the image functions is really to ask how reality functions, but that’s high level – I want you to talk brass tacks. What are you drawing from? What do you respect? I feel like a lot of the poems in your recent book Drain You and also Right Now the Music and the Life Rule are reminiscent of user-generated content, specifically online product reviews. I’m guessing this is because product reviews are all about trying to get at the experience of a thing, or its essence, to be truthful, to the point, and useful. The review itself is a product. I have a fascination with reviews of movie theaters on sites like Citysearch. There’s a lot of crazy class and race shit that comes into play, where the review mutates into a review of the audience. The audience as product. But I’m getting off track – What are you drawing from? What do you respect? How does it all come together?
JL: I was lounging in Beverly Hills very recently and I felt like it was kind of like the inside of my hot tub, which is like shapely and wishful, but I thought simultaneously that right now you can’t be inside of anything. We live in a borderless society. It is the deep mix of externalities that one communicates with, and the external: the people, the places, the objects, the feelings, and the desires are indeed comprised within the product, they are the "core product" — what you want it to do for you, so all writing that’s about external things or images is about how reality functions, the right now reality that isn’t ruled by the past.
I like to perceive going beyond the frontier of production. In economics, the transformation curve presents a defined limit based on the factors of production available. I think art expands the production possibility frontier to an indeterminate and possibly limitless rate. There is no end to the replication of feelings and their consequence. I believe in miracles as well, and to trip the boundary of the transformation curve would be an authentic "miracle," scientifically impossible, though a metric could be formed to account for the effect. This correlates, tangentially, with what you see as the user-generated aesthetic of Drain You and Right Now the Music and the Life Rule. User-generated content gives the audience focus and high control, it is also viewed as entertaining. Consequently sites that have these user-generated qualities have the fastest rates of growth, therefore accelerating the breakout from the production possibility frontier, and bringing us all closer to miracles.
DH: I don’t think reality functioning as an image is something specific to right now or the age of “the spectacle”. It’s fundamental. The universe is the image of nothingness. The world is the image of the universe. It’s the world we’re talking about here when we talk about macro-trends and the way we live. I think the shift toward user-generated content is part of a larger evolution. In marketing what’s happening is the brand and customer are becoming one. People create word-of-mouth campaigns at no cost to the brand. They beta-test and give feedback. They create actual marketing campaigns (like with video contests) and development code in the form of crowd-sourcing. This is all free labor that would normally cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in billable time. And they do it because they want a better product, a better user experience. It’s an inclination toward efficiency, and it’s the primary drive of the world in its current incarnation. It spills over into the relationship between the state and citizen, or the media and consumer, with the phenomenon of self-surveillance and monitoring your image online. You carry a GPS device so you know where you are at all times. You leave digital traces of yourself everywhere so you know what you’ve done and can forecast what you want to do next. Everything is connected. What this means is that all regulation is internalized. The state has effectively been replaced by the individual. This is an ironic, endgame scenario way beyond the New World Order of conspiracy theorists. It’s like what Debord says about how exile is impossible in a unified world. What’s terrifying is “We are the world.” But at the same time it’s not terrifying, or not any more than life itself. The impossible is always terrifying, and that’s what life is: its own impossibility. The challenge is always to embrace this impossibility, that is, to live life.
Order Glory Hole / The Hot Tub here.
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