JOHN BLOOMBERG-RISSMAN Reviews
“Hitler’s Mustache: The Mustache Is a Riddle: Except It Can’t Be Answered” in Hitler’s Mustache by Peter Davis
(Barnwood Press, Seattle, 2006)
*Hitler’s Mustache: The Mustache Is a Riddle: Except It Can’t Be AnsweredConsider cops and fascists of all sorts who enjoy the presence of upper lip fur. Think of the urge to sculpt facial fur and a fur patch concerned with world domination. There is always some black hole. Some mustache pointing to the holes in the bucket. Flower beds are watered but people go thirsty. Those beds are beds of dark mustache.More importantly is the Fascist in each of us. The rope that climbs us like children in elementary school, some extended snake that is too easy to grip.I have wondered at the jackboots in my closet and the wire brush I comb my hair with. When I notice my spaghetti is made of steel, I crunch it with stone teeth that were donated by Inca gods, the ones who spent the night here on their way to Wisconsin.None of them, not even the infant baby, sported a visible mustache. But I knew, and you know this too, they were stuffed with mustache. They had been staying with a king who fed them nothing but mustache, preparing them for slaughter and yet when I had them here, in my house, able to smother and disembowel them in their sleep, I spent the whole night whittling a mustache on the porch.
If there ever was a poem written under the sign of Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, this is it. As Michel Foucault says in his Preface, Anti-Oedipus is an ‘Introduction to Non-Fascist Living’:
“I would say that Anti-Oedipus (may its authors forgive me) is a book of ethics, the first book of ethics to be written in France in quite a long time (perhaps that explains why its success was not limited to a particular “readership”: being anti-oedipal has become a life style, a way of thinking and living). How does one keep from being fascist, even (especially) when one believes oneself to be a revolutionary militant?
How do we rid our speech and our acts, our hearts and our pleasures, of fascism? How do we ferret out the fascism that is ingrained in our behavior? The Christian moralists sought out the traces of the flesh lodged deep within the soul. Deleuze and Guattari, for their part, pursue the slightest traces of fascism in the body.
Paying a modest tribute to Saint Francis de Sales, (A seventeenth-century priest and Bishop of Geneva, known for his Introduction to the Devout Life.) one might say that Anti-Oedipus is an Introduction to the Non-Fascist Life.
This art of living counter to all forms of fascism, whether already present or impending, carries with it a certain number of essential principles which I would summarize as follows if I were to make this great book into a manual or guide to everyday life:
• Free political action from all unitary and totalizing paranoia.
• Develop action, thought, and desires by proliferation, juxtaposition, and disjunction, and not by subdivision and pyramidal hierarchization.
• Withdraw allegiance from the old categories of the Negative (law, limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western thought has so long held sacred as a form of power and an access to reality. Prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic.”
But to say that this poem was written under the Anti-Oedipus sign is not to say that Davis is an epigone, as one never says in a complimentary way. In fact, while he has learned that book’s lesson, and absorbed its wisdom, he is anything but. Anti-Oedipus was first published in 1972, I think. The book in which this poem appears was published in 2006. I am very tempted to say that, just as we write BC, or BCE, and AD, or CE, to mark a historical aporia, we probably need come up with something similar to mark the aporia that marks the last days of utopian modernism and where we find ourselves these days.
Davis marks that break in his title, which is where the real difference between him and D&G first strikes: “Hitler’s Mustache: The Mustache Is a Riddle: Except It Can’t Be Answered”. Anti-Oedipus, was an attempts to answer that riddle. By its very title, Davis announces the failure of that project. Is the failure temporary? We don’t know. As has been said, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than a change in the conditions under which we reside. But. I don’t believe Davis would have written this poem had he abandoned all hope. What would have been the point?
“Consider cops and fascists of all sorts who enjoy the presence of upper lip fur.” OK.
Here’s a infamous photo of an infamous fascist cop, the one who pepper-sprayed protesting students at UC Davis right in the face:
It’s easy to see the thing on his face.
“Think of the urge to sculpt facial fur and a fur patch concerned with world domination.” We’re not being asked to accept anything besides the urge. It is already apparent that the mustache is a kind of symbol for the urge. What is the urge? To dominate. What’s another name for it? Foucault: “fascism that is ingrained”.
“There is always some black hole. Some mustache pointing to the holes in the bucket.” Why do we have that urge to dominate? We don’t know yet. We may never know. But we know that we have it.
We can see its effect in the next two lines: “Flower beds are watered but people go thirsty. Those beds are beds of dark mustache.” Even a flower bed is an example of the urge to dominate. To dominate the earth. The earth must conform to our inner fascist. The fact that I don’t hate gardens might be a sign of **my** fascist inside. But there’s more to it than that. I don’t think Davis is privileging thirsty humans over thirsty plants. I do think, though, that he’s privileging thirsty humans over the wastage that occurs when we misuse resources in order to dominate.
“More importantly is the Fascist in each of us. The rope that climbs us like children in elementary school, some extended snake that is too easy to grip.” “More importantly” is grammatically interesting; I don’t know what to make of it. It’s also interesting that Davis feels the need to spell out what’s already evident. But this is a transitional sentence, really; it leads us to the notion that our internal fascist isn’t intrinsic; we’re educated into it. I think of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero”:
They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool
Till you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules
They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool
Till you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules
Which is exactly when they’ve got you, really … Davis goes one step beyond Lennon. He claims that we don’t need to be alienated to be “had”, to be “fascist-ized”, that it comes easy … to easy, maybe.
Let’s think a little bit about that rope/ extended snake. Are we speaking of the phallus here? Is phallocentrism, patriarchy, the problem? I don’t think we can say it’s **the** problem, but I certainly think we can implicate it.
“I have wondered at the jackboots in my closet and the wire brush I comb my hair with. When I notice my spaghetti is made of steel, I crunch it with stone teeth that were donated by Inca gods, the ones who spent the night here on their way to Wisconsin.” This is where the poet / narrator admits to his own inner fascist. That he combs his hair with a wire brush leads me to think that he is to himself as a flowerbed; he dominates his own body the way the earth is dominated.
I like the image of the iron spaghetti. It reminds me of the wire brush. Under these conditions, we can’t even eat food that nutrifies. Only someone with stone teeth can eat what we feed ourselves. I think of Burroughs, and Naked Lunch. From the introduction: “The title means exactly what the words say: naked lunch, a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.” Iron spaghetti: that’s great.
I wonder at the significance of the Inca teeth, and of Wisconsin. I think the teeth refer to the human sacrifices made in the name of the gods (would that make the iron spaghetti a metaphor for … yes, but that’s a whole book I can’t write here), but … Wisconsin? Of course, in early 2011 Wisconsin was the scene of confrontation between a fascist governor and countless demonstrators, but that was 2011, not 2006. I simply don’t know enough about the history of Wisconsin, or the author / narrator’s relation to the state, to say anything here other than “the fascist gods are everywhere …” Which is of course correct …
“None of them, not even the infant baby, sported a visible mustache. But I knew, and you know this too, they were stuffed with mustache.” The fascist is inside all of us. The mustache is a metaphor. How do we reconcile the fascist baby with the earlier claim that our fascism is inculcated? I think that’s easy: the snake is “too easy to grip” because, well, maybe were just made that way. Raised in patriarchy is a bad way to be raised … even the baby is doomed right away …
“They had been staying with a king who fed them nothing but mustache, preparing them for slaughter and yet when I had them here, in my house, able to smother and disembowel them in their sleep, I spent the whole night whittling a mustache on the porch.” There’s a lot in this sentence. The king. We could unfold the king in many ways, but I’ll just mention one here: the father, the Oedipus complex/myth: the main target of Anti-Oedipus. The king has nothing to feed anyone but mustache, of course, you’ll have to trust me; you’d have to read all of Anti-Oedipus to get exactly why.
The poem ends as it began. The Incan gods, who have come to personify the purveyors of fascism, even if it has been purveyed to them as well, are vulnerable a moment, yet the author / narrator does nothing but perform his own fascist act. At least, as far as ths poem goes, the riddle can’t be solved. It doesn’t seem possible to kill the mustache.
But I wonder if the poem really ends there. After all, why did Davis write it, unless he wanted to point out that the task remains? Deleuze and Guattari knew it would be difficult, to say the least. In fact, their work crosses the historical divide I mentioned at the beginning of this piece. A Thousand Plateaus, which appeared in the 80s, is much less optimistic that Anti-Oedipus, and their final collaboration, What Is Philosophy?, is at least as concerned with the creation of concepts as it with any sort of cultural change. Davis recognizes just how impossible the work is. But what else do we have to do, anyway? Water another flower bed? Buy another toy?
[Editor’s Note: This is one of 50 reviews written, mas o menos, in 50 days. While each engagement can be read on a stand-alone basis, there’s a layer of watching the critic’s subjectivity arise in a fulsome manner if the reviews are read one after another. So if you have insomnia and/or are curious about this layer, I suggest you read the 50 reviews right after each other and, to facilitate this type of reading, I will put at the bottom of each review a “NEXT” button that will take you to the next review. To wit: NEXT. And an Afterword on John's reading process is also available HERE!]
John Bloomberg-Rissman is somewhere towards middle of In the House of the Hangman, the third section of his maybe life project called Zeitgeist Spam (picture Hannah Hoch painting over the Sistine Chapel) The first two volumes have been published: No Sounds of My Own Making, and Flux, Clot & Froth. In addition to his Zeitgeist Spam project, he has edited or co-edited two anthologies, 1000 Views of 'Girl Singing' and The Chained Hay(na)ku Project, and is at work on a third, which he is editing with Jerome Rothenberg. He is also deep into two important collaborations, one with Richard Lopez, one with Anne Gorrick. By important he means "important to him". Anyone else want to collaborate? He blogs at Zeitgeist Spam.