Bad-Ass Beatific Yawp: On ‘Milk and Filth’ and ‘The Case Against Satan’
By Rob Casper
First off, the Packers. My sister and her sons went to last weekend’s game, and she consoled them after the loss — to the Lions! — by saying at least they’d seen some crazy football in the closing minutes of the game. But still…now they have to beat the Vikings (the Vikings!) to stay in the NFC playoff picture.
Happy I’m done with that. Now on to the reading. I’m going to follow Ryan’s “Jumping the Rails” post by admitting that, while I waited for Milk and Filth to arrive by mail, I powered through The Case Against Satan on my Kindle. A breach of the rules, I know — but it was nice and short, and now that I’m in a bit of a reading groove I want to keep it going.
And now, after having read next week’s book then this week’s book, and after having recently finished The Argonauts, all I can say is thank God for feminism (and I’m not even religious). The Case Against Satan’s comparison to The Exorcist made me think about what both novels share, in terms of characters and plot and what I would argue is a VERY thinly-veiled message. Which led me to this article, in Ms. Magazine — among the smart observations it makes is:
The implicit fear of women and their sexuality in [the film adaptation of The Exorcist] can perhaps be understood as the subliminal backlash from some of the profound cultural changes occurring throughout the decade of the ’70s. The Women’s Liberation Movement and the sexual revolution were in full swing. Gloria Steinem co-founded Ms. magazine. Mary Tyler Moore had her very own apartment.
Here’s another fun article, called “The Season of the Witch: Why Teenage Girls are So Dang Scary,” with the line, “Once you realize that The Exorcist is, essentially, the story of a 12-year-old who starts cussing, masturbating, and disobeying her mother — in other words, going through puberty — it becomes apparent to the feminist-minded viewer why two adult men are called in to slap her around for much of the third act.”
And I cannot resist a link to this WaPo news bit, about the author of The Exorcist suing Georgetown University for not being Catholic enough, and letting Kathleen Sibelius speak — one thinks of the word choice differently when one is talking about an exorcism.
It is in this context that I want to turn to Milk and Filth, and especially about its poem “Parts of an Autobiography.” This coming-of-age manifesto contains this section:
35. I write a poem in which I reveal my true feelings. The body is the engine and the brain is the hindrance.
36. I silence the brain with language play. I also break down the sentence, accommodate my ample ass in it, neutralize the modification with it.
37. To write a poem, I mustn’t be wearing a bra.
38. I’m debased, but not that low. I’m just more animal than machine, more heart than head.
39. I’m a worm with bones and a sophisticated sensing organ. I’m guts in a vise.
40. Scars are radical exposition. I’m provoked by the way scars encroach the body: I am working on a catalog of my scars.
41. Confessional implies shame, whereas a scar is the trace of violence and it’s always connected to a narrative about the body and it is more than confession, perhaps emblem.
42. I kneel at confession and my knees bear the trace of my abasement, where the action is.
There is such a wonderful muchness here — an over-the-top lyrical radicalism that isn’t above anything, including below-the-belt critiques of the self. And what imagination at work! It’s a muscular music, to borrow a phrase from a friend — the bob-and-weave of smart quips and slant truths. It’s at the center of the action — as a voice that will not obey, that will celebrate its irreverence, its grand mess-making. And it shows off its scars.
When, in the days and months to come, I am faced with the kind of language that seeks to simplify, to limit, to reinforce, to contain, to dismiss — and God-dammed if our airwaves and screens aren’t full of such cant — I will think of Milk and Filth and the power of poetry: to argue for nothing and everything, to play by not playing along, to make up its own rules and then celebrate breaking them, to cherish and debase from one word to the next, to contain a multitudinous, multidimensional, barbaric and beat-rich and bad-ass beatific yawp.