c kristoffer cornils

c kristoffer cornils

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As a so called digital native, I grew up discussing a lot. Ever since I’ve first went online with a dial-up modem to chat with strangers on AOL, I’ve enjoyed being able to have a dialogue with like-minded people at any time I wanted to. Over the time the net has changed. After AOL lost its appeal, I signed up to message boards, then social networks. My attitude changed, too. I don’t go on the internet anymore hoping to find people with whom I agree. A dialogue with people who think just like you is fruitless, isn’t it?

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I write a lot of reviews and articles on music and literature. Naturally, people often disagree with me and verbalise their disagreement in various ways. I like that. I don’t want to be that person who tells you what to think – I just want to throw my opinion in the ring, contribute to a greater discourse. Provide one voice where there are many others, thus expanding my horizons through other people’s perspectives.

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Hence ¿Comment! seemed like the perfect project to me. Not only was I able to work with more than just words, but also pictures, music, etc., but I would automatically enter a dialogue of sorts. With Ross Sutherland’s poetry, the commentary provided by Stefan Mesch and Ross’s translator, Konstantin Ames, and on top of that everyone else assigned to or interested in joining the discussion on this blog or other social media like Facebook.

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There remained one problem, though: As great as it is to have a multilingual – German, English, French – dialogue, a lot of that gets lost in translation. Ross even reached out to me on Twitter asking if I could clarify some of the points I made because Google Translate couldn’t make much sense of it. Which is probably my fault because I like to toy around with words too much, thus making any attempt to auto-translate my writings a futile task. When Katharina Deloglu asked me to provide a brief summary of my short essays on Ross’s poems, it made a lot of sense to me. After all, he should be able to join the dialogue just like everyone else, shouldn’t he?

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Having said all this, it should be obvious why I started out with Infinite Lives (Try, try, try again). In my essay, I reflect upon my own childhood, how it was shaped by the various media (comics, books, TV, video games) I consumed growing up and how they changed my perception of reality or, to be more precise, the concept of reality. Ross and I were born only a few years apart, but it seems to me like the differences in our perception of what is real and virtual are quite different. I don’t like to consider those two concepts – »reality« and »virtuality« – as opposed entities, but rather as complementary to each other, if not completely indistinguishable. I mean, just take a look at your smartwatch: It is 2014, isn’t it? However, the last lines of Infinite Lives (Try, try, try again) make me think that Ross tries to warn us of the »real-life« ramifications of looking at things through the lense of »virtuality«. It actually reminded me of those times when my mum scolded me for reading too much or watching TV endlessly instead of going outside to play, i.e. spend time in the »real world«. To me, that seemed rather conservative.

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Recommended listening/watching:

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Choosing Zangief  next made perfect sense to me. Again I was able to put the »me« in »media«: I spend Chtulu knows how many days of my childhood years mashing the buttons of an SNES joypad. I usually lost. Partly due to the lack of any actual skills and maybe because I preferred the female characters in Street Fight. They are by default weaker than the dudes you could choose from. Thus, I took the opportunity to connect Ross’s decision with an ongoing debate in the gaming community, linking it to the latent sexism in the game industry and how those games perpetuate sexist stereotypes. My idea was that, while Ross’s poem is neither sexist nor deals directly with sexism, his choice of character – a visibly potent, powerful and hypermasculine male – indirectly contributes to that perpetuation of stereotypes. I then tried to deconstruct the myth of the alpha male as depicted by the game by pointing out its homoerotic implications. In Zangief, the Russian street fighter battles a bear – »bear« is conincidentally a term used by the gay community to describe homosexual men who pretty much look exactly like Zangief. That was a freebie.

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The bear, however, has yet another connotation: It’s a symbol for Russia – which is where Zangief comes from according to the game manual provided by Nintendo. Street Fighter is not only inherently sexist, but also incredibly racist. Ross’s poem seemed like a perfect satire of this, because it takes all the stereotypes so far that they ultimately seem utterly absurd. Job well done, I thought. Until I started thinking about its political implications in the particular (geo-)political situation we are experiencing right now. When covering the current crisis in Ukraine, the media and people on the internet make use of a lot of stereotypes – both negative and positive – to describe and depict Russia. Point in case: It took me about five seconds to find a photoshopped image of Vladimir Putin riding a bear. Go figure. In the end, that gives Ross’s poem even more power. However, it’s an ambiguous kind of power: Is Ross providing a tongue-in-cheek critique on the way Russia is portrayed – or does he himself contribute to that by perpetuating those stereotypes?

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Disclaimer: I have since learned that Zangief is actually part of a cycle of poems, each one devoted to another character from the Street Fighter universe. Yes, that includes the female ones. Thus my criticism is partly, if not completely invalid. It is also worth noting that Ross wrote the poem long before the ongoing debate about sexism in games (although the topic itself isn’t exactly brand new) or the conflict involving Russia and Ukraine (although Putin’s rise to even more power also can’t be considered a novelty). My decision to connect the text to those two issues regardless of the time difference between it was written and where in we are now is based on my belief that any piece of art from any time in history can and should be applied to any other time in history.

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Recommended watching:

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The idea that forms the foundation of A Second Opinion, i.e. taking a metaphor way too literally, has always been a common trope in literature. I used some examples, notably Heiner Müller’s aptly titled Herzstück (Heart Piece), to locate Ross’s poem in this particular tradition. Obviously, it pales in comparision to the dry humour of Müller. But that’s besides the point. A Second Opinion is yet another literary discussion of how words, i.e. what literature is made of, can fail (us). It touches on the eternal paradox of literature as a form of communication (and of course communication itself, as it is always also literary as it heavily relies on metaphors, metonymies, etc.) that somehow provides a meaning by simultaneously concealing it. Bottom line: Language is tricky as hell and if you throw love into the ring, too, things will inevitably (that word will have a comeback later in similar context) lead to communicative and emotional chaos.

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Recommended watching:

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With my essay on Jean-Claude van Damme, I took another chance to dive into my childhood memories. JCvD used to adorn the cover of a magazine I used to read when I was aged seven or eight. Limit was aimed at young boys like me, offering a glimpse in the world of people who, on the screen at least, were the heroes of our world(s). One of the pillars of pop culture as a whole is its inherent promise of being able to identify with heroes like that. Back in the days, I was just like JCvD: Made from steel, yet flexible and agile. Sassy and cool as fuck. That, of course, hadn’t much to do with my »reality« (if you haven’t realised it before: the discussion of real vs. virtual is a reoccuring theme of Ross’s poetry). Thus, I took the chance to interpret the poem with a psychoanalytic approach. Rule number one of the psychoanalysis club besides talking very carefully about the psychoanalysis club: If there’s a father, you want to kill him. Either literally or figuratively. The last few lines of the poem – Ross sure likes to deliver his punchlines and twists at the very end of a text – show the father, a figure of identification just like JCvD was like to me in my childhood, as a defeated and powerless person. By consoling him, the son (I doubt it is a daughter we are dealing with here) triumphs over his hero.

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Recommended reading:

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a-freudian-slip-is-when-you-say-one-thing-but-mean-your-mother

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And hey, guess whom I am talking about in my comment on Ross’s Nude III! Yup, that’s right: Me again. The idea of »identical buildings« is very a powerful one as we surround ourselves with mass-produced objects all the time, architecture included. When I was first standing on the beach of Odaiba, the artificial island in the bay of Tokyo in 2010, metres away from what appeared to be the Lady Liberty (originally located outside of New York) and the Golden Gate Bridge (to be found on the other side of the USA, in San Francisco) at the horizon, I realised how immensly alienating it can be to see familiar objects (although, mind you, I’ve never actually stood before those two!) in a strange surrounding, i.e. a different cultural context. The effect Nude III had on me was similar: Here, everything and everyone seemed so familiar to me that I instantly sensed a feeling of alienation. The characters are stereotypical and blank to a point where they don’t seem human to me, even though they give me plenty to identify with. Which made me think: Is Ross maybe trying to tell us that people all over the world (or the privileged Western part of the world, to be more precise), regardless of them experiencing the same things in similar environments in mass-produced »identical buildings«, are still individuals? That cultural differences weren’t completely nullified by capitalism and its devil’s advocate, pop culture? If so, that would be completely banal. But aren’t most things that appear to be banal also true and important?

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I definitely liked this one the most.

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Recommended listening, part 1:

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Recommended listening, part 2:

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I was in for a big fat surprise when I published my essay on Richard Branson. Turns out the hyperlinks had originally not been part of the poem, but were later added by curator Simone Kornappel. Considering that I based my entire interpretation on those hyperlinks, it’s safe to say that I was bummed out, right? Nope, absolutely not. On the contrary: I was utterly delighted. In my essay, I completely ignored what Ross had written, but focused on the formal aspects of the poems. At the same time, the insertion of those hyperlinks offers an aid of interpreting the poem while introducing new ideas to it, thus making an interpretation a bit harder than if the poem came without them. After I’d used the theory of intertextuality to write about A Second Opinion, I witnessed its creative application to a poem.

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The links referred me to the man who gave the poem its title – a music industry mogul -, poor, overlooked scientist Jocelyn Bell Burnell – who was never credited for the exciting discoveries she’d made because, guess what, she wasn’t born with a dick – and articles about the artwork of Joy Division’s masterpiece Unknown Pleasures. How are those topics, which are connected to the poem, connected to each other?, I asked myself. Simple: Bell Burnell discovered the pulsars which are depicted on the cover of Unknown Pleasures. And guess what, she didn’t get any credit for that, too. Because that is just how not only pop culture, but art itself works. »Talent borrows, genius steals«, Oscar Wilde is believed to have said once, elegantly summing up a cultural method which – although the basis of all creation – is frowned upon and systematically criminalised. Criminalised by people like Richard Branson, who in his time as CEO of Virgin has sued the fuck out of a lot of internet users who disseminated music released by his corporation on the internet without paying for it.

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There’s an obvious connection between the aforementioned method of intertextuality – referring to, or: borrowing and stealing other ideas – and capitalism which the French philosopher Roland Barthes had already written about decades before sample-based music (a lot of which made Richard Branson a very, very rich man, by the way), the internet or filesharing were on the horizon. He proclaimed the Death of the Author, meaning that the person who creates something is never fully in control of what s_he does. Which, conincidentally happened to Ross who was – figuratively speaking – killed by Simone when she inserted all those hyperlinks in his poem. Which raised an interesting question: Had I really just commented on a poem written by Ross – or one written by Simone? Furthermore: Can we really say that the essay I wrote is genuinely my work? I did use an awful lot of ideas some other people had before me, didn’t I?

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Recommended listening:

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After that, there was only one poem left: Experiment to Determine the Existence of Love. Seriously, again? Yup, again the subject was love and again I identified it as a literary trope. A brief search for the word »love« in my »Music« folder came up with almost 1.500 music files out of 83.00 files in total (I’m a music journalist and a collector, after all). That’s a lot. So why not fight fire with fire, trope with trope? I posted some links to songs which, as I saw it, reflect what happens in the individual chapters of Ross’s poem. Additionally, I put a frame around that by adding Haddaway’s What Is Love? (which, by the way, was the first CD I’ve ever bought and probably listened to while skipping through Limit) and Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got To Do With It in order to to highlight its both Hegelian and circular structure. When linking to those music videos, I used the word »inevitable« without much thinking. A bit later, it dawned on me why I’d used that particular word: There’s a line in a song by The Ergs called Pray For Rain - »I just can’t wait for the day when inevitably / You say I’m not the guy you thought you knew when we have ‘The Talk’ / And you’ll regrettably inform me that you’re taking a walk« – which perfectly captures what is called the »Minneparadox« in German medieval poetry and provides the foundation for most literature on the subject of love: The impossibility or failure of a relationship (for whatever reasons) is what makes those sweet sad sappy love songs possible and successful pieces of art in the first place. Kudos to my subconscious for that. If you’re reading this (I know you do): I owe you one, pal.

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Recommended listenting (over and over again because it’s terribly catchy and downright awesome):

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Okay now. That was a lot already. But wait, there’s more.

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I then wrote a final statement trying to explain my overall approach. Another thing I like about ¿Comment! is its transparency: Unlike an article, essay or review I publish in a printed magazine, readers can directly react to it and I have to take a stand, explain myself or justify my methods (if I don’t, I’d come across as a snob, right?). As this project explores the possibilities of promoting literature to a younger crowd, I felt like I should point out some notions and prejudices that have always bothered me when I was in school, still bother me on my occasional visists to university or when discussing literary criticism:

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a) If it is considered to be important, it has to be good.

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It’s okay not to like whatever it is that you were assigned to analyse, interpret, etc. In school, you are confronted almost exclusively with literature that is widely considered to be canonical. Canonisation itself is highly problematic, especially because it gives (young, inexperienced) readers the impression that they have to like something because someone has at some point decided it’s culturally relevant. Similarily, ¿Comment! also presents to you four authors (whom, coincidentally and unfortunately, all happen to be male) who have been pre-selected by people who, frankly put, know their shit when it comes to literature. Their writing has to be good, right? Nope, not necessarily. If you don’t like it, that’s perfectly fine.

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b) If you don’t like it, it’s not worth your time.

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Dealing with stuff that doesn’t resonate with you seems like a trite and unrewarding task, but it hasn’t got to be. It can actually be very rewarding. Spending time trying to make sense of a text that doesn’t appeal to you is much like having a conversation with someone who disagrees with you: Maybe they’ll win you over. Maybe by finding a way to articulate what exactly it is that you don’t like about it, you might improve your intellectual methods. Maybe you learn something about the opinions you’ve formed and how you present them and, thus, yourself. I’ve dealt with an abundance of literature and music that didn’t seem worth my time to me. But I think I’ve progressed a lot as a student, critic or art aficionado, maybe even as a person, by giving it a shot over and over again.

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c) Some people’s opinions are more relevant than yours.

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Even though I’m listed as a »Profileser« (»professional reader«), I don’t claim any kind of authority. If you think I’m a dick and you completely disagree with absolutely everything I’ve written here, go ahead and just tell me. Maybe I’ll feel offended, sure. Still, I’d be more offended knowing that people don’t want to disagree with me because they think that I am somehow above them. Disagreeing with me might make me re-evaluate my opinion or choice of words. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve said it before: I grew up discussing all the time. I’m used to it. I even appreciate it. Hell, I fully endorse it. After all, it’s all about having a dialogue, isn’t it? Let’s have it at eye level.

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By Kristoffer Cornils

3 Kommentare

  • Ross Sutherland

    Krisoffer- thanks so much for this! Really appreciate you taking the time to summarise your thoughts in English. I think I’ll try to respond to some of your points in a new post. Particularly agree with your closing statements – it’s about conversation, and conversation needs to be on a level playing-field.

    Understanding why we dislike something is an important part of any critical dialogue.

    I used to be terrified of live Q&A sessions. I was so scared that someone would ask me a question that would expose me as a fraud (all artists feel like frauds I suspect). Then I got some good advice- if you can’t answer a question, that’s fine, just explain *why* you can’t answer the question. All my fear immediately drained away! Conversation is not about right and wrong, it’s a negotiation. And I’ll try my best to honour that.

    Ross Sutherland

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