January 2013



Animal Shelter, Issue Two, Spring 2012 edited by Hedi El Kholti

When you think of an animal shelter, you think of abandoned animals being hosted and waiting for someone to adopt them. You think of a safe space where animals are cared for while waiting for a new home. But when you come across an animal shelter that hosts texts speaking of loss, exile, drift, and death instead of sad eyed animals, then the same dynamic is reenacted. Defined as "non-digital and non-hierarchical," this particular animal shelter published by Semiotext(e) binds individual pieces from Eve Fowler, Dodie Bellamy, Sam Ostermann, Franco "Bifo" Berardi, Chris Kraus, George Porcari, Paul Gellman, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Slava Mogutin, editor Hedi El Kholti, Paul Virilio, Veronica Gonzalez, and many others. A dense and intense zine, Animal Shelter works as a perfect slideshow of interviews and conversations via Skype, academic criticism, poetry, essays and fiction accompanied by photography, photogram and collage breaks to let you catch your breath while turning to the next page. It's pretty hard to beat the feeling of etherealness, rawness, and apparent disengagement a good zine usually delivers, and Animal Shelter does all this and much more. It mixes details of lived lives with theory, softening and maybe even erasing the rigid borders so many academics are so keen to preserve.

Probably one of the most alluring angles of a zine is that you can actually read any piece of writing without worrying about a particular order, without fearing that you would miss something once you decide not to be chronological by page number. And staying true to this reader's autonomy, I'll look only at three pieces from Animal Shelter. First, it's Franco Berardi's "Irony, Cynicism, and the Lunacy of the Italian Media Power," an essay on contemporary mass cynicism with a case study on Berlusconi's new class, depicted as a toxic amalgam of highly aggressive madness and entrepreneurial pragmatism. Berardi argues that even if both irony and cynicism have the same starting point, namely the suspension of disbelief in morality and truth, they are based upon different things: cynicism on aggression while irony is based upon sympathy. "Neither irony or cynicism believe in the true foundation of law. But the cynical person bends to the law while mocking its false and pretentious values, while the ironic person escapes the law altogether, creating a linguistic space where law has no effectiveness. The cynic wants to be on the side of power, even though he doesn't believe in its righteousness. The ironist simply refuses the game, recreating the world on the basis of language that is incongruent with reality."    

Then it's Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore's excerpt from a public art project she initiated in 2009, "LostMissing," a graphic piece of personal reality that is pretty hard not to identify with, not to carry around with you for days even if you would rather ignore it, not dismantle your defense mechanisms and travel as light as possible. It talks about losing someone dear, about the void that stays within oneself despite any effort to get over it. It exposes the loss that takes the shape of your internal organs. It almost chokes you with the vulnerability it exhales, somehow making you feel ashamed that you've witnessed such an intimate moment, making you want to forget you've read it. But you simply can't. Way too acute to be easily reviewed without falling into the trap of excessive babbling, "LostMissing" is to be read and absorbed unless you haven't had enough of your own feelings of loss and loneliness: "I could say how dare you and then spit in your face, head back and then. I could say how dare you and then spit in your face and then lick it off you like a dog. Maybe if I was a dog then you would bend over and pet me and then I could bite your hand and it would be okay. What if I see you and the wind blows in my face and my hair gets messed up? I'm not used to that, with this new style that moves around more. My hair looks good today, but I need stronger hair gel. Stronger hair gel that I'm not allergic to. Maybe I'll see you and I'll start sneezing."

And thirdly, the exquisite "Goldilocks Syndrome" by Dodie Bellamy, a piece that reveals a possible and highly desirable queering of writing that goes way beyond simply describing sexual intercourses and sexuality in general. Instead, it advances the idea of a new kind of writing, one that subversively blurs the anatomical gender differences only to induce the lack as a potential way of defining oneself. Zero compliance to the standard norms of language. Zero compliance to the sterile straight heteronormative literality. Zero compliance to narrating one's sexuality from a voyeuristic point of view. Instead, confusion becomes the new erotic, complicating things between the reader and the text and challenging the latter's assumptions and expectations: "Rather than identity, we uncover a void, a vacuum, an inrush of sticky desiring others -- a non-position where the unbridled power of the libidinal child can be unleashed, the child who can blow up the world with her thoughts, the child whose body gets blown up over and over again, each time reassembling in ways that get stranger and stranger, the child that people back away from, otherness blazing from her, a molten orange and red aura. When this child enters the discourse of heternormativity language is going to fry."  

These are some of the texts I've felt like adopting from this animal shelter. The rest of them are still waiting to be taken home.

Animal Shelter, Issue Two, Spring 2012 edited by Hedi El Kholti
ISBN: 978-1584351009
195 pages