Thinking forward very distantly, it would be fun but also probably unavoidably self-indulgent to write an archaeology of “ugh.” (See an earlier post on this page about “wow.”) Maybe, most immediately, in the contemporary use as text-affect interjecting messages with a mood spectrum oscillating between low-level disgust and sighing frustration / exhaustion / irritation, i.e. an attempt to make tone legible. Also, though, as it slides into bodily noise, e.g. when Edgar Allan Poe encrypts a cough as “‘Ugh ! ugh ugh!—ugh ugh ! ugh l—ugh ! ugh I ugh !— ugh ! ugh ! ugh !—ugh ! ugh ! ugh !'” The empirical question is then whether it “began” as bodily noise and only recently came to work the way it does now.

In a 1903 edition of the Baltimore American, you can find a proto-genocidal gesture that goes beyond the negligence of a system letting you die (like when Mike Pence as governor of Indiana waited over two months amidst mounting HIV diagnoses to authorize a needle exchange program for IV drug users). Here is the editorial fantasy that prefigures Nazi Germany’s Black Triangle:

“Will Wear Badges: Smokers of Opium Will Have Labels of Identification” Baltimore American 06-12-1903, p. 4 —

And here’s the article, first published in a May 16th, 1903 issue of American Medicine, that’s reproduced  above (though it seems it may have been altered?):

Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 12.57.29 PM

Across publication events, it would seem, the item does undergo significant alterations — not least of which the paranoia-deflating deconstruction of the logic of the original in its republication. If the American Medicine original triply encloses the report (under “Foreign News,” by “General” proximity to happenings in Germany, and simply by the fact it takes place in Fukien, China), the Baltimore American reprint “smiles to think of a purely democratic government undertaking such a direct ordering of the lives of its rulers, the common citizen.” That is to say, it brings that classificatory drive to bear, lightly, on its fantasy of democracy. It does this by reducing the taxonomizing impulse to absurdity, by unfolding its “logical consistency.” According to the logic of badges, one would have to invent “insignia” for “users of cocaine, morphine, and alcohol” but then immediately also for “every sort of crime and evil habit.” Where this ends up is in an indefinitely particularizing taxonomy manifested in “crosses, buttons, pins, badges, ribbons and insignia galore,” each recording, Scarlet Letterlike, some “demerit” on the “breasts” of “fellow citizens.” By the end of the item, its critique of proto-eugenic forms of social administration turns out to ground itself in a white liberal abstraction of commonality in which every citizen is supposed to be equally vulnerable to the law. Jokingly, but with a clear investment, the item ends by imagining administrative and police apparatuses sweeping across and thereby leveling every “common citizen.” Once assembled together, “our drug-users, patent medicine guzzlers, our gamblers, senators, drinkers and our advertising doctors, the Eddyites, etc.” — “should all be properly badged!” A senator, in whom the rule of the citizen is supposed to have been reposed, would appear just as susceptible to profiling as the “drug-users” and “gamblers” he crowds in with and ambiguously shades into.

At the same time, in the American South, a “coke” epidemic (which should be assumed, throughout, to be synonymous with moral panic) was underway. Newspaper panic about black “degeneracy” in this instance helps to underline why it makes sense to construe the badge system as a eugenic project.

A form of surveillance actually implemented in the US (from what I can tell so far, badges weren’t) – pharmacy registers that recorded names, addresses, and reasons for acquiring drugs like cocaine and morphine.


I’ll leave it at that because I really just wanted to get down some notes on this startling documentary relay.


Typographic Abrogation

Abrogation is a refusal of the categories of an imperial culture, its aesthetic, its illusory standard of normative or “correct” usage, and its assumption of a traditional and fixed meaning “inscribed” in the words (Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin, The Empire Writes Back 38). …

Source: Typographic Abrogation

Just wanted to pull attention to this both bc it usefully gestures toward a proto-fascist context for the transmission of a typographic aesthetic and bc it has something to say about empire — but what does it mean to assert that the Futurists refused an imperial aesthetic? asking bc I don’t know much about them and don’t see where it’s coming from.

Also, wanted to add an image to the gallery. From Yone Noguchi’s The American Diary of a Japanese Girl (1902):



What’s interesting about this is not just that it recalls the form of Mallarme’s earlier poem, but also that its formal experiment was generated by a narrative enclosure: the narrator has torn up a kind of gossip column, “Things Seen in the Street,” but regrets it and so attempts to arrange the torn pieces back into what she acknowledges to be an illegibility.  As if she were presciently acting out Tristan Tzara’s 1920 “To make a Dadaist Poem,” or, indeed, writing it, Miss Morning Glory (the narrator) tells how she plucked the scraps from her basket to form poetic “lines.” Maybe a line of transmission here?


two morphinomanias


– H.H. Kane, Drugs that Enslave: The Opium, Morphine, and Hashisch Habits (1881) –


– Eugène Grasset – La Morphinomane (1897) –

In searing contrast [to the other prints in the album in which it’s collected], Morphinomaniac discloses a disturbing glimpse of narcotic addiction through aggressive stylization and an acid palette that pushes the lithographic print to its chromatic limits. The lithograph strikes the viewer with such immediate force partly due to its claustrophobic point of view as a close-up of three-quarters of a frail woman’s body compressed into a rectangular frame that barely contains her, with only her legs beneath the knees escaping exposure. The beholder’s point of view peers down at her as she hunches uncomfortably over a chartreuse fauteuil. As if preparing for a blow from without or a convulsion from within, her abdominal muscles are tightly retracted and her shoulders are raised to the point of shrouding the neck entirely. The flat, densely hued yellow background pushes her form against the picture plane and lends her silhouette even more severity.

– Abigail Susik, “Consuming and Consumed: Woman as Habituée in Eugène Grasset’s Morphinomaniac

An intervening “anti-mimeticism,” to borrow Curtis Marez’s paraphrase of Oscar Wilde’s “The Decay of Lying” (1889), lacquers over the subcutaneous denudity pockmarking Kane’s habitué. (possibly sexless). What smoothed out the second picture?

Counterintuitively, secret bodies multiply by contagion. Needles fascinate women especially, according to Morphinism and Narcomanias from Other Drugs (1902). A susceptibility to “neuromimesis,” among others, allows “addiction” to “become contagious, spreading in some instances throughout the community.”

Open wounds lay out open secrets – scarred bodies turn up on the scene of autopsy. “Diagnosing Opium Habitues by Snap-Shot” (1895) knew all about what stripping could disguise. Aggressively stylized, perhaps the prurience of Grasset’s flat yellow scopophilia glosses something over – the public fantasy of a wound so obvious it disappears into the thin shadow cast by needle on skin.

On the former body, by contrast, results multiply. Not just because skin had already, in the first decades of the 19th century, become a “visible organ,” as Irene Tucker has it – also because in both pictures skin finds the conditions of its visibility in shedding clothes, or undergarments turning outward (somewhere Roland Barthes talks about this).

But can the “Result of Subcutaneous Injection” turn to striptease? Why the loincloth’s concessionary modesty if every site of negative pleasure already accumulates across the surface? What does it concede to?

Maybe this is a way to invert that question: knowingness can, it seems, read its own confirmation on the first body, even if its incomplete objectification of that body compels it to resist the urge to jerk back in disgust – but can it do the same for the second? If something goes beyond the glaringly obvious, beyond any context in which it would make sense to evaluate it as concealed or obvious, as the second body seems to, how does knowingness keep operating, or not? Maybe contagion (that which you can catch from a sensation like that of the second body, but not exactly of the first) is the limit of open secrecy – there’s nothing to know about the needle’s fascination, since any exposure puts the would-be knowing subject out of the bounded space from which it could objectify the addict’s body, and not just by disgust, as in the former case. Sensation dissolves that space.

(My shot in the dark is that genre — treatise vs. album — doesn’t fully reduce the difference here: aestheticizing relies on the decorative erotics of empire, but the involution of that erotics around the morphine habit remains a question for historical research that can’t boil down to the axis of the clinical / pathologizing  and the lurid /  sensationalizing, especially if those two modes cross over some supervening logic).

Perhaps Kane’s frontispiece bears reproducing, too, especially as it classicizes (and thereby seeks to subordinate anti-mimeticism):

Mimeticism, taken too far beyond an ideality that softens affect’s disfigurations, depraves the taste in Lessing’s most famous acct of the above. Imagination needs to outstrip the striptease if it is to yield any pleasure — otherwise one risks conferring “a duration that outrages nature” on what ought to be a “transient access of passion” (19). (quoting from the 1874 translation)

Mania 1978 : other screened for the pathos of a system’s outside to flirt with – risks, still, an overongoing encounter with the undevoured, hence sticky, or endlessly incorporating system (like chewing gum) – within which the other coheres

Mania 1979 : desiring reflexivity breaks in/from manners – via unspoken lapse of “little niceties”

but do niceties = an ideosphere? or is it, rather, the pathetic because boring (flavor chewed out) consistency of the other’s system that, by forming an ideosphere of one, breaks niceties but simultaneously incorporates back into them?
Extrapolate — a kinesthetic notation of what becomes a perceptible fact of the physics of a scene but doesn’t make it to a cognition (complete or otherwise) of the significance happening — e.g. gestural condensations of cigarettes (Richard Klein)
also, what are mundane forms of incomplete cognition (e.g. stupidity, ellipsis, waiting)? 


1978 – The Neutral
1979 – The Preparation of the Novel


This boat is a womb, a matrix, and yet it expels you. …

The next abyss was the depths of the sea. Whenever a fleet of ships gave chase to slave ships, it was easiest just to lighten the boat by throwing cargo overboard, weighing it down with balls and chains. These underwater signposts mark the course between the Gold Coast and the Leeward Islands. Navigating the green splendor of the sea-whether in melancholic transatlantic crossings or glorious regattas or traditional races of yoles and gommiers–still brings to mind, coming to light like seaweed, these lowest depths, these deeps, with their punctuation of scarce1y corroded balls and chains. In actual fact the abyss is a tautology: the entire ocean, the entire sea gently collapsing in the end into the pleasures of sand, make one vast beginning, but a beginning whose time is marked by these balls and chains gone green.

But for these shores to take shape, even before they could be contemplated, before they were yet visible, what sufferings came from the unknown! Indeed, the most petrifying face of the abyss lies far ahead of the slave ship’s bow, a pale murmur; you do not know if it is a storm cloud, rain or drizzle, or from a comforting The banks of the river have vanished on both sides of the boat. What kind of river, then, has no middle? Is nothing there but straight ahead? Is this boat sailing into eternity toward the edges of a nonworld that no ancestor will haunt?

– Édouard Glissant, The Poetics of Relation (1990 / 1997)

We steamed up into New York harbor late one afternoon in spring. The last efforts of the sun were being put forth in turning the waters of the bay to glistening gold; the green islands on either side, in spite of their warlike mountings, looked calm and peaceful; the buildings of the town shone out in a reflected light which gave the city an air of enchantment; and, truly, it is an enchanted spot. New York City is the most fatally fascinating thing in America. She sits like a great witch at the gate of the country, showing her alluring white face, and hiding her crooked hands and feet under the folds of her wide garments,–constantly enticing thousands from far within, and tempting those who come from across the seas to go no farther. And all these become the victims of her caprice. Some she at once crushes beneath her cruel feet; others she condemns to a fate like that of galley slaves; a few she favors and fondles, riding them high on the bubbles of fortune; then with a sudden breath she blows the bubbles out and laughs mockingly as she watches them fall.

Twice I had passed through it; but this was really my first visit to New York; and as I walked about that evening I began to feel the dread power of the city; the crowds, the lights, the excitement, the gayety and all its subtler stimulating influences began to take effect upon me. My blood ran quicker, and I felt that I was just beginning to live. To some natures this stimulant of life in a great city becomes a thing as binding and necessary as opium is to one addicted to the habit. It becomes their breath of life; they cannot exist outside of it; rather than be deprived of it they are content to suffer hunger, want, pain and misery; they would not exchange even a ragged and wretched condition among the great crowd for any degree of comfort away from it.

– James Weldon Johnson, Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912 / 1927) – Ch. VI

I AM no physician, and not learned in physiology, therefore I cannot enter into a learned analysis of the opium appetite. Neither have I read any books upon the subject. I know nothing about the matter save from my own observation or experience. But whether I know why this is true, or that is so, or not, one fact I am entirely conscious of, and that that in this appetite abides the enslaving power of opium. The influences of opium in the latter stages would not have such an attraction for the habituate but that he could easily forego them but the appetite comes in and makes him feel that he must have opium if he has existence, and there an end to all resistance. Here dwell the Circean spells of opium. Should one become accustomed to large doses, or rather large quantity per diem, almost impossible to induce the mind to take less, for fear of fall ing to pieces, going into naught, etc. It seems in such state that existence would be insupportable were reduction made. An intense fear of being plunged into an abyss of darkness and despair besets the mind. Hence the opium eater goes on ever increasing until his final doom.

– anonymous habituate, Opium Eating: An Autobiographical Sketch (1876)

And, as all activity implies a waste of tissue (since it is dynamically equivalent to the passage of potential into kinetic energy), Pleasure is to a certain extent concomitant with a decrease of vital function. The limit at which such waste of tissue ceases to be pleasurable and begins to be painful is, I believe, the point where the waste exceeds the ordinary powers of repair.

– Grant Allen, Physiological Aesthetics (1877)

The same factors which, in the exactness and the minute precision of the form of life, have coalesced into a structure of the highest impersonality, have on the other hand, an influence in a highly personal direction. There is perhaps no psychic phenomenon which is so unconditionally reserved to the city as the blasé outlook. It is at first the consequence of those rapidly shifting stimulations of the nerves which are thrown together in all their contrasts and from which it seems to us the intensification of metropolitan intellectuality seems to be derived. On that account it is not likely that stupid persons who have been hitherto intellectually dead will be blasé. Just as an immoderately sensuous life makes one blasé because it stimulates the nerves to their utmost reactivity until they finally can no longer produce any reaction at all, so, less harmful stimuli, through the rapidity and the contradictoriness of their shifts, force the nerves to make such violent responses, tear them about so brutally that they exhaust their last reserves of strength and, remaining in the same milieu, do not have time for new reserves to form. This incapacity to react to new stimulations with the required amount of energy constitutes in fact that blasé attitude which every child of a large city evinces when compared with the products of the more peaceful and more stable milieu.

– Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life” (1903)