10/11/2022 1 Comment
When I was thinking about this interview project and what I wanted it to be someone that came to mind that I wanted to talk to was Ulrich Jesse K Baer. I’m a big fan of his writing and existing in this world. He’s the writer of Midwestern Infinity Doctrine (Apocalypse Party 2021) and At One End (Essay Press 2020) and an exciting new work someone should publish, like, right now!
KG: You’ve been in Europe for a while now. First Copenhagen, I think, then Amsterdam and now Berlin? Did I miss somewhere? Being from Sweden I feel like I should be more familiar with these places but I’ve only been to Copenhagen and that was when I was 18-20 and visited the Roskilde music festival a couple of times, which feels like it barely counts. I’ve been to Germany but not Berlin. What has your experience been with these cities and which one is your favorite?
UJKB: Germany is exactly a Caspar David Friedrich painting–desolate and unheimlich. Sometimes I’ll get this feeling that creepiness is seeping in from all around me, here. And exacerbated by the transition into fall. I watched people I was with in a park garden a few days ago talk about how the dark rain made them sleepy. I love Amsterdam, and I was disappointed by how large Rembrandt’s the Night Watch painting was irl. I think all of Europe is creepy, even.
Amsterdam was only a little bit like that scene in I think Sweet Movie with the communist and their canal boat and a bed of sugar you could die in.
Denmark: increasingly deranged as you take the trains in/to the interior. The Jutland. I met some really lovely queer artists in Copenhagen: less sleepy than the viking graves. I’ve been reading Genet’s Querelle because I think he’s the pre-eminent theoretician of shame, and I read and read it while I was lostly alone in the garden outside the royal library, waiting for a flixbus. I truly recommend the experience of radically compromising the self on the flixbus–take it. In the US, the megabus driver wakes you up around 1 AM and forces you off like a megastop, you wait in the harshing fluorescence of the truckstop snack aisles, like an awestruck child. It’s misery. On the flixbus from Copenhagen to Berlin, they woke us up and we were in this white industrial space as a British voice descended, shouting commands, and we went up the staircases. I had to wander for a while before I realized the bus had parked inside a ferry, and I felt that I had more in common (at least spiritually) with the two other passengers who spent most of the night with their heads bowed over the railing, watching the flecks of foam cut into the waves by the ship wake, the only visibility in the night, than I ever did with people who look more like me.
What do you miss most about Sweden? What was yr like phenomenological reading of the ABBA museum? Like Proust style, what feelings does it give you?
KG: “I truly recommend the experience of radically compromising the self on the flixbus–take it.” They should pay you for this promotional quote. Radically compromise the self, on the flixbus. This should be a quote that people find when they look you up after you’re dead
I googled flixbus and they were founded in 2011, which is years after I left Sweden and Europe. I’ve been here a long time. And thinking of Europe as creepy made me remember this vague memory getting lost in a fog in the german landscape as a child. I just remember us driving, me and my sister in the backseat I guess, and the fog outside, and I don’t know why we ended up on these small roads, and those cliché black and white german buildings all around, that didn’t seem real. That’s how I felt when I first got to NYC too, the buildings looked fake, like they couldn’t possibly be real, but a movie set, and if you walked around the back they wouldn’t have a back, they would be hollow. Full of the American Dream. I still like to walk around storefront buildings here to see what’s behind. And the overgrown alleys in between.
I’ve never been to the ABBA museum and this feels now like a monumental failure. Did you go? What was it like?? Growing up ABBA felt too cringely Swedish and I thought I was too cool for ABBA and the joke is on me because ABBA is the coolest. I wish I could travel back in time and tell myself ABBA is cool. And Peter Gabriel. And the 80s. I turned on an ABBA playlist just now because you brought it up. Before they were famous, in 1973, they played in my mom’s small hometown on the back of a truck and I choose to believe she was there.
SOS playing: “When you’re gone
How can I even try to go on?”
I miss mostly people. I miss a more publicly available nature. I miss walking in Gothenburg (where I lived for a number of years) and Östersund (where I grew up). I miss riding the trolley and food and Swedish summer. I miss what might be a fantasy: a less violent-feeling society. But the violence is probably just different.
Where are you from, where did you grow up? How do you feel about that place? Also, in your IG bio it says Private Paranormal Investigator. Have you encountered/investigated any paranormal events lately? Ghosts? Have you found the Vampires? A sense of community? We’ve been watching the new Irma Vep series.
UJKB: That germanfog memory feels like a Fleur Jaeggy story to me. As a matter of fact, someone told me a similar story, but set in Veracruz, en route to Xalapa, which is fogheavied.
I’m so glad you brought up the cinematic landscape–I’m obsessed with flat spaces at night with the depth diminished like the sky was all backdrop slammed against the buildings. And I love imagining you checking to see if you’re on an abandoned movie set. What makes dirty alleyweeds so compelling?
We only have the empty substitution for an ABBA museum memory; I have never been. I only went to Malmo, I feel embarrassed by this but one of my happiest memories in Scandinavia was sitting at a table in a semi-crumbling mall complex there, eating a salad bar composition beside the cigarette kiosk, the dominos, busted up bathrooms. The anonymity of the liminal space, where you become dissipate with the atmospherics. Almost like a lyrical self.
I love stories about bands playing in truckbeds, now my idea of Scandinavia is superimposed with memories of Mexico. I’ve drawn strength from that ABBA song that goes “I believe in angels / something good in everything I see / I believe in angels / when I know the time is right for me / I’ll cross the street”. Of course I imagine these lyrics are referring to death.
How do you keep in touch with people across the oceanic distances? There’s a foggy sickle moon beyond the balcony where I’m smoking a cigarette and writing to you. I was going to write a poem but I felt this would be an equivalent act. Please tell me more about Swedish summer, especially in the 80s!
I grew up all over the v haunted southeast. My mother saw ghosts there. One saved her life and I’m still grieving the fact that another didn’t. I watched Drive My car, at your recommendation, today and I was especially moved by the way they acknowledge our responsibility for the deaths of the people we love, complicatedly love, and I want to express an idea that we’re all as humans collectively responsible for everyone’s deaths. In that sense, vampirism is the baseline. We are fed on by the dead feeding our context, the deaths that serve as the surround. I’ve only just started up the paranormal investigation work again. Do you have any European leads?
I reference Irma Vep briefly in the second space vampire book–when I talk about being unable to prevent the world from breaking down into circles and points, to stop running away in your stolen film costume.
Don’t feel bad about the ABBA museum–there’s still time. Thank you for being in my life and sharing that time with me. Where are you responding from?
KG: I was unfamiliar with Fleur Jaeggy so I picked a story at random and of course it ended up being a story about dying, a mother and the death of a son (“The Perfect Choice”), and read it while listening to a cover of Stayin’ Alive by 90s singer song writer Heather Nova. I’ve been listening to this cover album for days, and I really loved the story. I want to read more by her.
“He stayed up all night, it seemed to him that he had a great deal to do, in the doing of nothing.”
I feel like there’s some comfort in the alleyways and alleyweeds, spaces that capitalism has deemed unnecessary and discarded, where you can be unnecessary, useless. The dumpsters behind Dollar General are beautiful. I don’t remember having the same alley spaces and the same contrast between the front and back of buildings in Sweden. There capitalism has claimed all or most the spaces in the city, cleaned up the crime scene. Are they portals? How are the alley spaces in Berlin? Where do you go to be? Alley spaces feel like good places for poetry readings.
That Angels ABBA song feels dark and haunted to me. A lot of ABBA does or maybe it’s just me that’s detached. There’s like a sadness behind it. I imagine it playing on repeat while a character cries like that woman in Inland Empire watching TV.
I only really keep in touch with my mom, my sister and my dad, with video calls. My mom and sister visited at different times this summer and that was nice. Do you stay in touch with any family? I like that you decided to channel your poem-writing into this correspondence. When in the day do you find yourself writing the most?
I loved Drive My Car. I found it really moving in ways I can’t seem to put words to. Maybe in imagining community, even through all complications, a different way to exist together, which is really broad and vague. I also find I like long slow movies, like being exhausted and disarmed by art. I remember watching Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice when I was 16 or 17 and just being wrecked by it.
I remember Swedish summer as bearable, the humidity and heat in southern VA is not. I long for fall here. In northern Sweden some summers you barely got a summer and all warm sunny days needed to be experienced like a rare gift. One summer memory is working for my grandpa refinishing a house and planting trees, chopping wood, while listening to Leonard Cohen on whatever device people listened to music on at the time. One summer me and some friends biked from Ostersund to Stockholm and slept in the woods on the way.
“My mother saw ghosts there. One saved her life and I’m still grieving the fact that another didn’t.” I’ve been thinking about these lines and grief. I’m not even sure how to phrase questions about grief. How “do you process”, or how do you “work through”, feel gross, questions written by the overcoming/success ted talk individualism industrial complex. How do you DEAL with? The Power of The Deal? I don’t know by making a DEAL with vampires in weedgrown alleyways! A lot of older family members have died since I left Sweden and I never saw them again and I don’t know what to do or feel about that. A lot of other close people have died and their ashes live in our home. Maybe grief is a bit like Irma Vep climbing on the roof tops, walking through walls.
I love your space vampire books!
UJKB: I’m rereading you with a glass of the cheapest whiskey I could find at Aldi, I carried it home wielding it in front of me like a weapon. There’s a nice moment in Querelle where Genet says that the dull knife the teenage boy is carrying is more violent and powerladen than the useful knife, because it is a symbol. Yes, let me know what you think upon reading I Am the Brother of XX!!
To be discarded. To float in refuse use. To be uselessness. I think I found some dirtcracked alleys in industrial dereliction sections of Malmo.
Here is a question that has been haunting me, Kim. To what degree do we make, should we make accommodations to be legible to one another? We compromise ourselves, in coming to speak, entering communication. Bataille posits that we’re reaching towards (each other) across an abyss. We have to borrow from a repertoire of abbreviated signs. I think about this with respect to beauty. Whether you’re revising a text, or changing your body, your body’s language, when do the compromises become excessive? Unbearable?
Ambivalent desire, to not want what you want.
I have tried to fall through portals in the postindustrial midwest. Have you found any you’ve fallen through? Sometimes I came to the conclusion that all desiring is the affective traces of childhood (awe). Every oil refinery makes me into a reactionary because I imbue it with my memories of Louisiana (thinking about Benjamin talking about architecture in the arcades, the way it ideologically inflects us with its feelings). I superimpose Louisiana Louisiana Louisiana death songs over everything and cannot be faithful to (fidelity in) transcriptions of the real. Do you ever find Sweden where you are? I would book a plane ticket there if you were holding a poetry reading behind a Dollar General. The best poetry reading I ever did was with my friend Zeb at an art venue in Ohio–there was no one there except us and Zeb’s partner and the organizers of the space. We were just singing to eachother, then. Then, we walked through the dark, I think zeb covered me for a pack of cigarettes, we went to their place and talked about assemblage theory. I think there’s something spooky magical in the lost midwestern night. What’s the best poetry reading you ever did or went to?
The ABBA lament you mentioned earlier. Hollow pop grief, hyperreal and chromatic. Crying to the television is exactly what David Lynch is all about! Yes! I think about magnetism and distortion, the falling bands of color across the screen. Noisy cosmic background.
I don’t have any family except the family I’ve made everywhere since I left. I do long distance calls sometimes, zoom shared movie watching. I miss everyone when they’re gone.
I miss everyone when they’re gone.
I’ve been struggling to write poetry lately–I’ve been thinking too formally, or else resist feeling. I would really just like to write a sad poem everyday, at some point, before the day ends.
Have you seen Andrei Rublyev? I love endurance film watching, too! Slow iconography. Pressing at the limits of attention, in its holy aspect. To be pronate. And how long can you sustain it? And toward what?
I cried when Leonard Cohen died. He’s in the furnace of my heart now and forever. Which album(s) did you chop wood to? I’m putting on “The Old Revolution” as this ghostly internet transmission speaks (for me). “Even damnation is poisoned with rainbows” I was a guilty child looking for sacrificial narratives to lose myself in. In the austerity of thought and creed, like “The Partisan.” “Of course I was very young, and I thought that we were winning” to be a royalist ghost in the burgeoning mercantile age. It reminds me of ABBA’s Fernando–“Though we never thought that we could lose / there’s no regret”
ABBA’s angels. Remorseless consummation of what is, has been. Amor fati.
How did you feel sleeping in the woods on the biketrip? Please describe this feeling.
lol yes yr ted talk take! We are haunted by many selves. Irreconcilable. We are unfaithful to. My first night in Berlin in 2017 I went with some guys from a hostel to an ambient music festival, I think it was at tresor. I was all ghost eyes, moving through rooms, watching people pulsating against eachother in the dark, the light strobed. Chainsmoking sitting on the concrete floor pummeled by shimmering soundwaves. Now I feel more like a vampire sequestered, afraid of the burning world. Waiting for someone to approach me in the dark. With radar. In Toufic’s book on Vampires, he talks about how the threshold of the vampire’s castle is roving, an invisible line you (de)note when you stumble trying to cross it. Phenomenological interference. I’m listening to Slowdive’s “when the sun hits” like I was in Berlin in 2017 “it matters where you are.” Creeping through the labyrinth. Towards what infernal reception?
Thank you for locating me, through your questions, and your voice.
KG: Thank you for your amazing, wandering answers and questions back. This feels a bit like sending correspondence out of war trenches but the trenches are alleys behind Dollar General and Aldi’s. When I lived in Gothenburg I used to buy cheap, terrible cigarettes in a german discount store called Lidl that tasted like ashes. Is Lidl still a thing? I have this one haunting memory that was probably a dream but felt more real than real, staying alone at my sister’s apartment, eating nachos, and waking up in the middle of the night to watch a car, on fire, slowly rolling down the hill outside.
I will drink a whiskey toast to you and this interview later. It keeps expanding, not just with each answer, but away from the formal toward something more mysterious, and probably an inevitable collapse. Toward something useless. The interview is growing weeds.
I like thinking about Genet’s teenage boy’s dull knife being more violent than a useful knife. The power of spectacle?
I don’t know the answer to your question about what accommodations we should make to be legible to one another? I feel like it depends. We protect ourselves and we try to reach out, “open up”, and get hurt, and try again, and don’t get hurt, maybe. We are harmed and trauma sets in our bodies. I’m trying to reach out by doing this, here. Is the internet an abyss? Feels like a graveyard. It feels risky to try, to approach people. The alternative can seem safer but is it really? I’ve been identifying as introverted all my life but lately I’ve been wondering if actually I’m extroverted. I keep wanting to facilitate connection in different ways.
And I like to think of this as a creative collaboration instead of getting to “know another”, to meet in a kind of ceremony. I don’t know if that’s a good way to look at it but it feels less transactional, more communal. The swedish woods don’t feel like the woods here but I don’t know how to describe it. Slower and quieter maybe, drier. There are less vines. At night, in sweden, the mosquitoes are ruthless.
ABBA’s Fernando sounds like the score to a 70/80s’s fantasy movie. Actually Benny and Bjorn made the score to Mio min Mio (or Mio in the Land of Faraway) which terrified me as a child. It’s a weird english/russian/swedish collaboration starring child Christian Bale and a terrifying knight played by Christopher Lee with a stone heart who turns children into birds. His pale face and metal claw hand. What scared you as a child?
“Even damnation is poisoned with rainbows” – I took Cohen’s death hard too. A sense of humor in the bleakest. I started Andrei Rublev not that long ago but never finished, I should start over.
Tell me what you’re hoping will happen in Berlin. Are you staying much longer or have to head back to the states? How do you imagine an ideal life would be, for you?
FJKB: I. One of my friends described the last space vampire book as a loving / erotic gesture
And that gesture, which someone else characterized as psychotic enlightenment
Consists in what begins as a question
Can you love me
To which the response is received
Not if you are what you say you are parenthetically if what you say
you are reveals the instability at the core of what I am, or hope I am
And I say,
Let me hold you so you can come apart
I take some things Bersani gave me (unfortunately-somewhat in spite of
himself) and make them into diabolicalbeautiful tools for trans boys
And this being what it means to top
A field of precipitating flora—the body becomes
To father selves into the world by fathering the bodies of the others
we begin to intricate in
The problem that ended the book was a hand that swept in from outside,
that started destroying the heart I thought I’d safely preemptively
reduced away it was still/beating and the hand destroyeddestroyed it
and I couldn’t find anyone to hold the trans boy in the book or in
While he fell apart
And that’s what I’d like,
A material hand.
That having been being said, in order to answer your question
I listened to the bjork podcast we discussed the other day—the one on
Vespertine she describes how the work predicts the domesticity it
prepares a space for
That sort of predictive insight, the foresight when you’re at one in
harmony with the work the way she
Captures the crunchy music box sounds
I think of music boxes constantly love like self perpetuating music
the soul in Phaedrus, its justification as everlasting—that it’s self moving
The music box of love similarly seems to come alive via its own will
So I’m like a little deleuzian animal sick in the burrow of a world
that doesn’t want me but I’m drawing a line of escape
By learning everything I possibly can
About how to love.
Ii. Syllabus (so far)
The double life of Veronique
Through the olive trees
Lacans seminars on transference
A thousand plateaus, revisited (skip their horrific misogynistic thoughts on Zelda Fitzgerald)
What else? Black and white fairy tale movies that take place in the tundra with-deer
What do you suggest Kim? What’s on your syllabus for learning how to love well, for how to prepare a space for love?
I have a Lidl sim card but I prefer Aldi. I’m very particular about my cigarette brands.
Do you think the car is still rolling down the hillside on fire???
As for the knife:
Also because of the relationship between the symbol and what infernally magnetically, sidereally, guides identity. I’m so glad you’re talking about this issue of reaching toward other people (weapon aside). I think it’s probably a spectrum (intro to extro), and that where we are on the spectrum between wanting company and deferring it does cor/respond to our traumatic experiences, like concussive aftershock, of trying to touch other people and getting hurt. Maybe we always meet in a graveyard. I’m glad you’re still trying, it means you’re still alive there, I think. Zeb and I have put Mio min Mio at the top of our movie list. All of my antiantianti novels are structured after b movies. What do you think it is that’s so enchanting about bad movies?
I agree I think that clotted wet vininess is more characteristic of the states than here.
Definitely finish Andrei Rublyev! I love iconography. An ideal life for me would be so many real material hands and presences, with-mine, to love and be loved by. Hylic ensembles.
I hope that I leave Berlin in mostly one piece and that I find somewhere with a stronger community where I have to travel alone much less often, and where I can support myself.
The creepiness isn’t romantic–it’s the fascist weather (forecast:same as ever).
When I was a child I had nightmares about vampires.
PS I’m Friedrich now, I’m borrowing Nietzsche’s strength
to be continued?
Ulrich Jesse K Baer received his MFA from Brown University in 2017. He was born in Georgia and grew up beneath southern power plants. He is the author of the chapbooks Holodeck One with Magic Helicopter Press and At One End with Essay Press as well as the full length doctrine Midwestern Infinity Doctrine with Apocalypse Party. He has been included in journals such as Prelude, Pinwheel, Bathhouse, Baest, The Tiny, and Bone Bouquet. He loves horses.
He offers creative writing classes sometimes on his website www.ulrich-baer.space
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