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In the title chapter of his recent book, The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century, art critic Hal Foster introduces the term traumatic realism in an effort to mediate the contradictory views surrounding the work of Andy Warhol-that is, as "referential and simulacral, connected and disconnected, affective and affectless, critical and complacent." This "contradictorily coherent" view and the complexities of the term traumatic realism, veiled to a certain degree by the notion of immediacy implicit in words like "trauma" and "realism," bear significantly upon the encounter with the figure of Warhol in John Kinsella's "Warhol" poems. At the same time, this encounter itself can be seen as providing a subtext to Kinsella's own interrogation of the ways in which concepts such as "realism" (which make claims to disinterested objectivity) mask what is in fact a violent and nihilistic drive to impose upon the structures of representation an ideological absolute. The Pop-Art aesthetic synonymous with the name of Warhol serves here to throw into relief the complacent conventionality of assertions about the "real" (in the way that various governments, for instance, have asserted claims of sovereignty over colonial "real estate," or that political groups have asserted claims over "real conditions of production," etc.), which in turn belie a more suspicious assertion of proprietal rights; over representation itself. The inherent act of dispossession or disenfranchisement in such assertions appears, in Kinsella's poems, not only to produce and structure a type of "trauma," but in fact to be dependent upon trauma, as the elemental locus of the elemental violence that is never absent from absolutism in any of its many forms. Realism, in this sense, exists to castigate the aberrant, to redeem through corrective violence, regardless of its particular political or ideological "orientation." Such notions as Sartrean 'engagement,' therefore, with its admixture of socialist realism and phenomenology, stand equally accused as doctrinaire socialism, fascism, or the simulacra of global capitalism. In this context, Kinsella's solicitation of the figure of Warhol can be seen an opportunely "deconstructive" gesture aimed at discrediting the claims of realist ideology and its determination of the aesthetic object either as property or as morally responsible critique of property.

According to Foster, one way in which we can understand the concept of traumatic realism is through "the famous motto of the Warholian persona: 'I want to be a machine.'" Foster argues that while this statement has often been interpreted as confirming the ultimate blankness of the Warhol Factory, "it may point less to a blank subject than to a shocked one, who takes the nature of what shocks him as a mimetic defence against this shock: I am a machine too, I make (or consume) serial product-images too." In this sense, surface effect becomes a type of camouflage or even prosthesis, in which "reality" becomes a mask, a defence against the traumatic (which in turn becomes viewed as something dis-affected or dis-affecting).

Calling to mind those species caught in the grip of mimicry, this concept of traumatic realism suggests a way in which we might view "the real" in terms of a certain notion of programme, in which a compulsion to repeat describes the basic condition of the "individual" and of cultural production generally. Countering an ethics of individual action and art as politically and socially engagé, Warhol posed the idea of "engagement" itself as merely symptomatic of a social condition, one which masks the fact that the objects of engagement already operate within an economy of commodity fetishism. Ethical engagement becomes a compulsion to repeat; to act is to consume.

In a recent interview, Kinsella elaborates upon this in terms of narrative (as verisimilitude) which he insists is "a device, an artifice, not reality" (which should also draw our attention to the distinction between "reality" and "realism" in traumatic realism-or again, between "realism" and the "not reality" of narrative discourse). Responding to a statement of Adorno, that "the committed work of art debunks the work that wants nothing but to exist; it considers it a fetish," Kinsella further argues:

Narrative poetry with horror as its subject subscribes to the worst aspects of commitment. It necessarily becomes fetishised and commodified itself.

On the other hand, some art which might be considered "decorative" (which "wants nothing but to exist"), can in fact be seen as critical, and at the same time resistant to the political coercions of art engagé. That is to say, it poses its structural indifference to subject matter as something that requires accounting for, and calls into question the assertions "committed" discourse makes about the value and integrity of its objects while at the same time omitting a critique of its own rhetoric. Indeed, it is difficult to find in Adorno the means necessary to structurally distinguish committed discourse from mere agitprop, as much as from so-called "ornamental" or "decorative" form, whose exclusion by Adorno from the realm of the meaningful thus situates it at a crucial juncture in the (self-) fetishising of the political as a type of aesthetic morality. Kinsella identifies this critical element of the ornamental or decorative in the structure of repetition:

I feel there's a kind of honesty in the "repetitive formulaic play" [of decoration] that allows me to explore its terms of reference in an apparently disconnected way. But such exploration always reveals the potency of the decorative-it is a core language which backdrops the drama we accept as committed.

What Kinsella points to is one way in which repetition enacts, as it were, a critique of certain aesthetic values which are implicitly politicised in any discussion of the "real." Serial repetition is seen to trivialise (and downgrade the uniqueness of) the narrative event of realism, or of committed art, and renders it anonymous, substitutable, as though it were chosen by the artist at random, as merely one among many otherwise disconnected pictorial elements. And this is precisely the argument of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, who insists, in his seminar on 'The Unconscious and Repetition,' that "what is repeated is always something that occurs ... as if by chance." Here, the appearance of chance is what contributes most to its galling effect. In Warhol's Death in America series (in which photographic images of electric chairs, automobile accidents, police brutality and so on, are repeated ad nauseam like some sort of tabloid nightmare), the "traumatic" is not so much attached to the images presented, but to operations of technique (such as "a slippage of register or a wash of colour," "suggesting the smudged graininess of newsprint, the reject layout, the uneven inking") which punctuates the discontinuous "serial space" of representation itself. These operations, according to Foster, "seem accidental, but they also appear repetitive, automatic, even technological" (or we might say, grammatical), to the point that they exhibit their calculations in a way that is virtually menacing (and more so since the images themselves succumb to the violence of the repetition process).

On the other side of this equation there is a traumatic resistance, an effort to deny the "emptying out" of ethical discourse in what critics refer to plaintively as an "age of conspicuous consumption and modern technology." Another of Warhol's famous statements is that "the more you look at the same thing, the more the meaning goes away." For Foster, this experience of the apparent emptying out of signification, and the resistance to it, can be summed up in a phrase of Lacan's, whose implications are particularly provocative. He defines the traumatic as "a missed encounter with the real," which can be understood as a rupture and a failed rendez-vous, a recoil at the very limits of the representable, an after-effect that is unable to account for itself. We might also say that this "missed encounter" describes a type of nostalgia, an insistence upon going back over past events, a fixation upon particular instances in the hope of isolating the very thing that can never be presented there: the encounter itself. As "missed," this encounter escapes representation; "it can only be repeated" (and "repetition," insisted Freud, "is not reproduction").

The problem of reproduction and repetition is fundamental to any discussion of "the real" and its function both as an object and as a paradigm of ideological or aesthetic critique. In Kinsella's poetry, the figure of Andy Warhol operates on both sides of this equation: he exemplifies both a failure to encounter "the real," and the assimilative manufacture of it; insulation from the traumatic, and its compulsive articulation.

In 'Warhol at Wheatlands,' for example, the situation is one of disengagement posed against an Australian rural landscape whose "authenticity" masks an ideological content in a manner that is both disingenuous and beguiling-what Marjorie Perloff has referred to as "Kinsella's romantic ecology." For "Warhol," who is presented as mere surface effect, the signifying codes of the Australian landscape are unrecognisable-it "doesn't / remind [Warhol] of America at all":

But there's a show on television about New York so we stare silently, maybe he's asleep

behind his dark glasses?

At "Wheatlands," Warhol is presented as "engaging" only at a remove from the external world (which is kept at a safe distance in "laser prints," "polaroids," and "deadlocks and hardened glass"). This is the Warhol of The Factory, "tinfoiling / his bedroom," for whom ring-necked parrots are only conceivable if they are "famous," in a landscape where "the day fails / to sparkle" in a haze of dualities.

In a more recent poem entitled 'Cow Wallpaper with smallish haloes...,' Kinsella further explores the inherent contradictions of the dualistic nature-culture fallacy, revolving about a play on the meaning of "business" and the various assumptions as to what the proper business of art should be:

COW WALLPAPER WITH SMALLISH HALOES ... "Business art is the step that comes after Art. I started as a commercial artist and I want to finish as a business artist." -Andy Warhol

Sentient, different, over again, staring at floors-polished wooden boards- & ceilings; eye-shake nibbling

like zeiss und cyberpunk; that expressionist artist who says, out of the fat, out of greyish muck-hack, hack!

Dogwood stark as winter becomes as warm as summer- it's no more complex than that.

The yellow background-rare, but there, as if... behind the clouds. Cold, insulated, the lift

going up and down in the new New Yorker building, Vogue models wondering why Times Square has devolved.

There's no verse left in this: the hook, the look, the butcher's: all those elegies and Shelley too.

Scope, affiliate, fall into accepting that divinity brings quality, & verbose flights of oratory.

Of course the landscape tradition as we understand it today had its roots in British and European Romanticism, with its underlying Kantian notions of the beautiful and the sublime and, ultimately, of an imprint of divinity which would serve to underwrite man's aesthetic adventure in the great wilderness of creation. The Romantic landscape harked back to the Biblical Eden; it was nostalgic by necessity. Here was something of man's "true" condition, and if it could not be re-gained in fact, it could at least be re-presented by a system of aesthetic values. The Modernist revelation of an angst-ridden and threatening unconscious hidden beneath the Romantic ego-sublime, and the efforts of various Expressionst writers and artists to present the world in all of its sordid "reality" did little more than to invert the formula (nature, the primitive, was now within). Together they may be said represent little more than the medieval diptych of Genesis and Revelation. Moreoever, in both cases landscape functioned instrumentally, and this is something which should always be kept in mind when reading Kinsella's poetry.

Indeed, the instrumentality of "landscape" is one of the things that Kinsella constantly draws our attention to. This does not mean to say that Kinsella himself resorts to any straightforward didacticism (although there are elements of this in some poems-'The Benefaction: Vicissitudes on interior,' for example), but rather that didacticism itself is inherent to the very idea of landscape, just as are ideas of manufacture and process. It is not a question of whether or not nature is exclusive of such ideas, by any sort of definition, but whether it is not in fact "indifferent" to them. This is a moot point for Kinsella, since to give the word "indifferent" its more common psychological inflection would also reveal a possible return to what Ruskin labelled the pathetic fallacy. At the very least, the subjectification of nature will have served to reflect moral philosophy's ideas back at itself (if one wishes to subjectify philsophy in the same way), revealing, if it reveals anything, the essential solipsism of such didactics.


In 'Warhol at Wheatlands,' an effect of didacticism is constructed through the juxtaposition indicated in the title-one which operates on a more or less parodic level, as the juxtaposition itself can hardly be considered as either literal or plausible. It would be easy to imagine here that Kinsella is proposing landscape as being more substantive, more "real," than the Warholian persona, and using it as an indictment of the so-called post-modern condition. What is actually at stake, however, would seem to be less a claim upon the "real" than upon the unassimilable (both thematically and rhetorically). The unassimilable in this case would be the mark, precisely, of what is "missed"-and what is missed is presented not as the "real," in any straightforward sense of that word, but as an "other," even if this "other" manifests itself as nothing more than an "unfamiliar" system of signs, such as that presented by the Australian landscape (keeping in mind also that the analogical, or metaphorical, structure on which this poem is based, and which is signalled in the title itself, depends firstly upon an illusion of masking what is unassimilable in the encounter of necessarily unlike elements, as is also the case with the didactic text).

In many ways Kinsella can be seen as reciting the (post-) colonial antagonisms that have often been taken as defining moments of an Australian cultural sensibility as one of alienation, and this alienation is made more acute (and more ironic) by clichéd depictions of cross-cultural alarm and mystification. On the one hand, Warhol represents the intrusion of "alien" cultural and commercial interests (with an eye to asset stripping), while on the other (as a type of visitor from outer-space) he orientates a comedy of commodity fetishism, which is as much a burlesque of (one-sided) cultural exchange as it is of culture shock.

On an allegorical level, 'Warhol at Wheatlands' also re-enacts the larger history of Western encounters with the Australian landscape, which consistently found it to be aberrant, repellent, dystopic; the underside of the world, the Antipodes. That is to say, traumatic (a missed encounter with the "real" as much as with what Slavoj Žižek has called "the sublime object of ideology"). In The Fatal Shore, Robert Hughes argues that, at the time of first settlement, Australia (and the Pacific basin, an "oceanic hell") functioned as a type of "geographical unconscious." The name of this dark continent at the time of "discovery" was, on most European maps at least, Terra Australis Incognita: the name of the land-without-a-name, and perhaps something in this paradox presaged the sense of the unnamable that belongs to the "unconscious" which Freud discovered, at about the same time as "Australia" was coming into being as a federated, self-governing nation state (that is, when it might be said to have begun evolving its own consciousness, if not its own conscience).

Like Freud's unconscious, Australia existed in the European imagination initially as a series of "well-made enigmas / propitiatory hermeneutic and well coded" (Syzygy 11. 'Deletions')-the negative desire of an emergent scientific positivism. This "imagined country," as Hughes says, lurked beneath the rational conscious of the Enlightenment like something "infernal, its landscape that of Hell itself":

Within its inscrutable otherness, every fantasy could be contained; it was the geographical unconscious. So there was a deep, ironic resonance in the way the British, having brought the Pacific at last to the realm of European consciousness, having explored and mapped it, promptly demonized Australia once more by chaining their criminals on its innocent dry coast. It was to become the continent of sin.

But as Hughes' comments imply, this Hell was already an operation of the rationalist spirit; it was what Foucault might have called a Hell of "discipline and punishment," a "corrective" Hell in the allegorical form of both Garten der Lüste and paysage moralisé. And in fact, in 1788, the colony of "New South Wales" was inaugurated as the largest scale prison facility in human history, and it at once become the epitome of the Sisyphean contract between labour and redemption enshrined in the Protestant work ethic of those who had instituted it.

The flagrant nihilism of the penal colony extended also, to varying degrees of absurdity, to the project of continental exploration commencing in the 1820s, which most famously exhausted itself traversing one desert after another in search of a mythical ("redemptive") inland sea. In every endeavour, Terra Australis appeared to resist assimilation to the European "idea," although this in itself seems to have been determined a priori, programmed by the "idea" that condemned it as dystopic in the first place. And this assignation as dys-topia ties in to an entire complex history of repression that organises itself around the concept of "property."

Australia, it should be remembered, was first and foremost the destination of those who were considered to have insulted the law of property, it was dispossessed of those who failed to recognise (or even comprehend) the law of property, while the land itself was consistently hostile to the very purpose of property-just as it has always been hostile to an aesthetics of the "proper." In this way Australia was also viewed (and often continues to be viewed) as dys-functional: the missionary work of pastoral industry, for example, being constantly undermined by the irrationality and godlessness of the place, manifested in floods, bushfires, droughts, and a native population seemingly immune to the inducements of salvation through toil. These demographic and environmental "disasters" give the appearance of a nihilistic force bent on sabotaging the efficient, serial production of pastoral industry, and this suggests another way of looking at the relationship between land-scape and technology in Kinsella's reading of Warhol.


Central to any discussion of Warhol is the notion of "authenticity," and the corresponding idea of art as being fundamentally distinct from manufacture, or of aesthetic value as being somehow intrinsic to a work of art (and therefore "real") and not determined by the marketplace (that is, as something purely nominal or virtual, and dependent upon a context). It is possible, for instance, to see the juxtaposition of Warhol with "Wheatlands" as a comment on the structure of authority in determining the signifying value of (the) landscape, particularly in regards to agricultural industry-in that the mechanisation of the land determines its meaning in terms of use-value, which in turn situates its meaning within a particular cultural-historical setting. In the experimental poetic sequence, Syzygy, Kinsella likens this to the technology of writing:

threatening construction on its very printed page, corrector fluid [...] formatted like a river ending in a window mouse decorating graphic disasters without compassion. We impose. Macrographic-Beta-Language

[7. 'Subjecting objects to serious scrutiny']

In many ways, Syzygy can be said to explore this conjunction between poetics and technology, or between landscape and language, and there are notable instances where Kinsella deploys the figure of Warhol to negotiate these conjunctions.

Like Warhol, Kinsella can be seen to focus upon ways in which the heavily mediated, and mechanised "object" nevertheless resists "interpretation." In the case of the Australian landscape, and the Western Australian landscape in particular, this situation is radicalised; not only do the idiosyncratic aspects of the land escape mechanical normalisation (weather patterns, distance, population density, cultural isolation, racial difference, etc.), but they also call for normalisation-that is, from the point of view of an ideology which requires that the earth and its species be "dignified" through utility in the service of advancing "civilisation" and sustaining economic "progress." Further, there is a level of contiguity between this ideology and the dominant aesthetic. For instance, there is the question of how land is represented (in the visual arts, in politics, in economics, in poetry: i.e. "the pastoral tradition"), and how in Australia this process has been, since colonisation, one of conflict between a mechanical "translation" of land into "land-scape" and a resistance to translation (an element of the unassimilable which enacts a deconstruction of the Western aesthetic, and so on). As Kinsella suggests (drawing upon the internal contradictions of "property"), this process may be "re-flex-ive / though who owns the fragments (?)" (Syzygy 18. 'peine fort et dure').

One of the outcomes of the encounter between Kinsella and Warhol is the foregrounding of a certain irony regarding the meaning of "technique" and what authorises technique and determines it as a mechanism of identity. This irony, however, masks a radical violence: the systematic effort, in Australia, to not only translate, but to expunge (as a form of ge(n)ocide)-to replace the (dystopic) land with a functional (utiltarian AND aestheticised) landscape, and thus to instill within it a metaphysical "essence." In this way the nature-culture distinction breaks down, as does the opposition between essence and proprium (or outward aspect), and "landscape" henceforth functions as a type of deus ex machina-a grotesque, hysterical apparatus caught up in the perpetual manufacture of its own image as property.

What would determine this in terms of traumatic realism is that this manufacture does not act to conceal what lies beyond, nor does it mask the absence of a beyond, a negation of place or a terra nullius. Rather it points to its own "technique," its own "essence" as technology, to what defines it as "technological." In section 2 of Syzygy, 'Fallout,' Kinsella writes:

remember looting these impressions? machinery expressive and light- conscious love scarifying poise the tractor rocketing the clod of loamy earth bootlegging frustration mudbrick and fencewire circular-saws threatening Robert Frosts

In this evocation of the encounter between pastoral and industry, Kinsella poses the question of how cultural self-awareness, through aesthetic representation, veils a threat posed by the technological, which is not only a threat of disillusionment originating somewhere "beyond" representation, but a threat which belongs to representation itself. In this way Kinsella poses the idea of landscape not only in terms of topos, but also as trope.


It is a commonplace that, for the most part, Australia inhabited the European Romantic imagination as the dystopia to North America's utopia. But while America had Southey, Coleridge and Blake to laud it as the next pantisocratic Jerusalem, Australia's spiritual patrons were more concerned with it's promise as a penal abyss into which a whole substrate of society might be cast and forgotten. Both were conceived in terms of "use," but the nature of this use differed radically in intention, even if it was similar in its outcomes.

The similarity and disparity between the ideas of Australia and America can be seen as informing Kinsella's reading of Warhol in terms of use-value and the aesthetics of different forms of consumption. In 'On Andy Warhol's Baseball and Gold Marilyn Monroe,' America is represented as "industrial might [...] pre-packed," with an "earthly" Joe DiMaggio leaping from a "black bunker" towards Marilyn's celestial lips like a germinating phallus. The heliotropic metaphor links together industry and fertility in an image of commodified desire ("a gold shrouded satellite / orbiting the American dream," "The President licks your golden feet"), while the rhetoric recalls a whole genealogy of creation (and nation) myths, and one could almost imagine DiMaggio as some sort of pop-culture ubermensch hitting the home run for the species. But then, seasonal "[r]e-runs of greatness start to look the same," and the allegory itself is banalised at the same time as its language becomes inflated and sloganised ("course // marked collision"). America as utopia, as Warhol himself insisted, is a "dream America," "custom-made from art and schmaltz and emotions."

But as elsewhere, Kinsella, like Warhol, poses a challenge to the way in which the value-structures of myth or 'legend' are often perceived. Much of Warhol's artistic production, for instance, can be viewed as a critique of the way in which myth and cultural identity have become objects of the market place, comprising, in his own words, "a statement of the symbols of the harsh, impersonal products and brash materialistic objects on which America is built today. It is a projection of everything that can be bought and sold, the practical but impermanent symbols that sustain us." The banality of such symbols, however, is always contextual, and this is something we need to keep in mind even while reading Homer's Iliad, for example, whose similarities to the inflated prime-time rhetoric of modern ball games are perhaps more significant than its differences. And it would be disingenuous to suggest that Classical hexameter is somehow intrinsically more worthy as a medium than modern commercial silk-screening, or that intentionality intervenes on the part of Homer to elevate his subject, while on the part of Warhol it intervenes to debase it. If we consider the well-worn phrase of Cleanth Brookes that relates a work of high art to a well wrought urn, there may be more than sarcasm at play in Kinsella's formulation of "[a] perfect pose concealing / popular truths, the trashy / synthetic polymer makeup, canvas / skin and silkscreened hair" ('On Andy Warhol's Marilyn Six-Pack').

In 'Shot Marilyns & Gunbelt,' the theme of allegorical recycling is tied explicitly to landscape. As with 'Warhol at Wheatlands,' the landscape is viewed through the use of catachresis. The "sunset," contrasting with Marilyn's lips in 'On Andy Warhol's Baseball and Gold Marilyn Monroe,' is "tacky / & nothing special." The iconic value of the solar metaphor is replaced by the negative commercial value of an image which is apparently unaffected (and dysfunctional). However, Kinsella is quick to remind us that the "real" is not anchored in mere portrayals of landscape (or "crops [with] broken unglazed surfaces"). Significantly there are "[p]owerlines" that "hiss in the uneasy air- / like poems escaping from screen-prints," suggesting that the poem itself, like the industrial objects and "collectibles" that define the rural environment in terms of commodity pre-packaging, is already involved in a process of consumption.

To recast the signifying equation, we might say that every signifier markets a signified. Or, as Kinsella himself has said: "landscape has always been a political concept," or so much "rural propaganda." But beyond "landscape" there is also the ideology of "THE LAND," whose "reality" serves to mythologise the Australian dystopian experience in a way that the Statue of Liberty, for example, serves to mythologise America's utopian one. That is to say that the idea of "THE LAND" serves to dignify the antagonistic relationship between "man" and environment-a relationship which might otherwise be seen as merely one of arbitrary cruelty, cynicism or futility.

In section 28 of Syzygy, entitled 'Reality,' Kinsella connects landscape with the female body, which is seen to function, counter to the ideal "feminine" object of desire ("capture[d] and isolate[d ...] like a flash billboard") in poems such as 'On Warhol's Marilyn Monroe's Lips And Red Disaster,' as a carnal object in a drama of sexual / textual aggression:

If it's real it's been photo- graphed but not by lips testing on recall cauterised word(s)-slash & burn, scorched earth releasing opacity of skin and smooth cool sight in our hands, wounds washed & THE LAND never sulking.

Elsewhere, in section 12, 'Entropy / Flesh,' a reference to Warhol's 'Tunafish Disaster' separates "tundra vista / the canvas captures and projects / the sky shocked" from "disaster spread / like emulsified stabilised sheen upon / Marilyn's tender lips c/- Big Sirs." Here the carnality of section 28 is prefigured in an image that at once commodifies and ironises a "rape" by conflating the language of pornography with that of speculation ("en-loading your own quizzing sense-around. Smell it!").

In much of Kinsella's writing, "landscape" functions not as a plane of representation, but as the place of a "missed encounter" between the "real" and those systems that seek to exploit it's concept in terms of what it can be made to stand for (as the value-guarantee of an experience or encounter that simultaneously masks its inaccessibility). Hence 'Entropy / Flesh' suggests a type of encounter whose limits define a "carnal knowledge" in opposition to the higher (socio-economic, cultural, political, aesthetic) values invoked in order to conceal its baser operations. Instead we are invited to witness the effectiveness of this encounter, its technology, which becomes anaesthetic in the form of (lyric) pastoral.

However, to supplant the pastoral with some other negative representation, such as "the rape of the land," does little to engage the complicity of representation itself (-it ultimately makes no difference if "THE LAND" is depicted according to one ideological system or another, as utopia or dystopia, since it is equally suborned in either case). Where we might begin to speak more decisively of traumatic realism, then, is at those points at which the subornation of the "real" is exposed in its own machinations, through a lapsus or series of lapsus.


In Syzygy, and to a similar extent in other experimental works such as Erratum/Frame(d), Kinsella adopts what could be described as a strategy of ellipsis, which in itself constitutes a general grammar (recalling Joyce's "paperspace" and Mallarmé's Un Coup de dés), in which it is not so much a matter of representing a lapsus or lacuna, as framing a space of repetition. As Lacan has noted, the Freudian "return of the repressed" is not the return of any thing, or even of a signifier of a repressed, but rather of the absence of a signifier, which is "made" to signify in turn: it functions as a blank into which other signifiers are repeatedly (mechanistically) inserted.

One of the ways Lacan explains this relationship of ellipsis and repetition is by relating it back to Saussure's model of signification (as the "fictional" relationship described between a signifier, or sound-image, and a signified concept). Lacan situates the signified as a species of ellipsis, whose "place" is subsequently assumed by series of differing signifiers which are taken to defer to it. Lacan describes this in terms of glissage, or the slippage of signifiers across the interstice that separates the signifier from a supposed signified (enacting in the process a type of repetition compulsion whose structure articulates and "affirms" the illusory reality of the signified).

In Syzygy, and much of Kinsella's non-narrative writing, this notion of glissage could perhaps better be expressed as "abrasion"-it is an abrasion rather than a mere slippage (or laminar flow) which gives signification its possibility and ties it to the traumatic (as a "missed encounter with the real"). That is to say, it does not simply pass over 'seamlessly,' or conceal, the ellipsis. Rather, this ellipsis persists, like a cicatrix-the trace, in language, of "damaged landforms":

fault-lines highways upending bridges siphoning rivers neuter [...] like bedrock and pylons congealed beneath town planners' forgotten mud, acronyms

[Syzygy 11. 'Deletions']

The landscape of Syzygy, unlike that of 'Warhol in Wheatlands' (which is more or less iconic), persists beneath the impress of mechanisation (its "meaning," to implicate Wittgenstein, as its "use" in language-that is, certain political, socio-economic, cultural rhetorics) whose object is to mask as much as to replicate.

Section 23 of Syzygy, 'Na(rra)tive/chapelle ardent,' poses the question of meaning ("Syz-23-key") as "fetish or frou-frou," warning that "Rhe / -toric plans an / invest atation," "morphemic and trendy / up- / wards & categorise." Landscape becomes a process of meaning-formation, a screen upon which discourses are superimposed, just as "pastoral industries" are imposed on the "natural" environment (in which crop cycles, with talk of yields and threat of infestation, define the landscape in economic terms while at the same time laying claim to higher (ethical, theological) values of utility): "De- / tailing / edifice & / scripture/s & / inspire- / ation." Indeed, it is perhaps at this intersection of the pastoral tradition and pastoral industry that the "traumatic realism" of Kinsella's writing has most often been identified, though equally as often misunderstood, under the rubric of "anti-pastoral."

One of the problems with discussions of "anti-pastoral" are that they risk being re-appropriated by a discourse of engagement which masks an ideological investment in the so-called "Ground Zero" of "objectivity," an investment Kinsella draws our attention to in a passage in Syzygy critiquing the truth-value of "archaeology":

on meeting archaeological light, spent swarming the traps, for this is Ground Zero Warholing in cyclone territory

[Syzygy 5. 'The Cane Cutter']

The derivation of first principles, of an arché, is shown as always being brought up against the problem of language, of Warholian serial repetition, of the un(der)grounding of logos at the very point at which we expect to encounter the "real." In section 23 of Syzygy again:

logos go go & presuppose a % of an * [vraisemblance] eschews a?

Touchy on a point of picture & linkage = so what?

[Syzygy 23. 'Na(rra)tive/chapelle ardent']

Textual archaeology, in other words, never steps "beyond" discourse, for which the distinction between "picture" and "linkage" (reference) is a matter of indifference.


Against the Romantic deployment of the pastoral as a locating of the sublime through the egoisation of landscape, "anti-pastoral" implies a negative dialectics whose anti-subjectivism presupposes the possibility of a more authentic relationship between representation and its objects (or, on the other hand, countering the devaluations of "post-modernism," between representation and repetition).

What remains, however, is that in Kinsella's writing "anti-pastoral" does not define itself in terms of a negation of the pastoral tradition, but rather as an articulation of the pastoral's "missed encounter with the real." It situates this "missed encounter" in language, in the very structure of language, such that we could speak of "traumatic realism" as a condition of discourse, and not as an object or objective. But if Kinsella's poetry can be said to articulate a kind of "anti-pastoral" violence, it is not to say that this poetry is "about" violence (the violence of the landscape, of industry, of white Australian history, etc.). Rather it is a matter of its being "'about' the violence of repetition and its structure." Moreover, this violence can be considered as "traumatic" not because it confronts us with a destruction of ego-affirming pastoral ideology, or because this destruction brings us into a (threateningly) direct encounter with the "real," but because it implicates us in an event of language from which we are necessarily absent and about which we are only able to manufacture accounts.

This paradox, which is ultimately that of a failed identification in the self, underlies the "representational" violence of pastoral through which landscape is redeemed for the prestige of the colonising ego of Western property culture. What Kinsella's reading of Warhol suggests, however, is that this "redemption," theological in pretension, is also a type of Simony, a purchasing of preferment, a buying back of the singular commodity of "guilt," to the profit of indifference. Warhol's alleged cynicism in this regard has earned him the accusation of being "morally numb," and of being "disposed to treat all events as spectacle." Yet in rendering guilt as spectacle (the spectacle of social complicity in tragedy and acts of violence-including moral and political violence), Warhol denies guilt as fetish, as the sacred object of an institutional morality which metes out judgement and justice (as it appears in art engagé). Moreover, in Warhol's work, the commodification of guilt does not render a denial of responsibility, but rather a destructuring of responsibility. For Warhol, as for Kinsella, it is not a question of responding to or for the "guilty" image, but of encountering those structures which render such "responsibility" impossible and which tie the individual into an economy of guilt that is self-perpetuating at the same time as it is "meaningless."


i Foster, Hal. The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996: 130.

ii The "Warhol" poems can be found distributed between the 1993 collection, Full Fathom Five and the 1992-4 collection, Wireless Hill. Other poems by Kinsella relating to Warhol have yet to be collected, whilst references to Warhol can also be found in sections of the experimental sequence Syzygy. All references in this essay, however, are to the versions of poems included in Poems 1980-1994. Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1997.

iii Swenson, G.R. 'What is Pop Art?: Answers from 8 Painters, Part 1.' Artnews 62 (November 1963): 26

iv Foster, op. cit., 131.

v Cf. Bois, Yve-Alain and Rosiland Kraus, 'A User's Guide to Entropy,' October 78 (1996): 39-88. Also Bois, Yve-Alain and Rosiland Kraus. Formless: A User's Guide. New York: Zone Books, 1997: 74ff.

vi Interview with Brian Henry in Verse 15.3-16.1 (1998): 74.

vii ibid., 72.

viii Cf. Ernst Bloch, Georg Lukács, Bertholt Brecht, Walter Benjamin, Aesthetics and Politics, with an afterword by Frederic Jameson. London: Verso, 1977.

ix Verse, 73.

x Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan. London: The Hogarth Press, 1977: 54.

xi Foster, op. cit. 134.

xii Hughes, Robert. The Shock of the New. Rev. ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 1991: 348.

xiii ibid.

xiv Cf. Moszynska, Anna. Abstract Art. London: Thames and Hudson, 1990: 206ff.

xv Warhol, Andy and Pat Hackett. POPism: The Warhol '60s. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980: 50.

xvi Lacan, op. cit.

xvii Critic Robert Hughes, for example, identifies the process of serial production as a form of "onanism," whose "sterile and gratuitous functioning has made it a key image for an avant-garde that tended, increasingly, towards narcissism" (op. cit., 56). The moral and political implications of Hughes' statement are not difficult to determine as being linked, at least in part, to notions of (private/public) property which limit the permissibility of much 'private' experience to forms of social utility. In this sense, the concept of repetition embraces a paradox, since forms of self-engenderment in no way differ from forms of re-production except in the values attached to them on the basis of utilitarian ideology. Moreover, exhibiting one of the many underlying prejudices of art history, Hughes cites the lack of uniqueness in Warhol's work as a measure of its valuelessness. In a comment that could equally apply to human DNA, Hughes complains of the "inert sameness of the mass product: an infinite series of identical objects" (ibid., 348). The contradiction is almost crude. The Venus of Milo is unique, finite and commodifiable, but somehow neither inertial, nor "narcissistic" in its "sterile" singularity. Warhol, whose "infinite series" in fact defy sameness at the same time as they mimic it, is considered on the other hand as simply masturbatory: inauthentic production, repetition. Hence: "Warhol's work in the early sixties [i.e. the Campbell's soup cans] was a baleful mimicry of advertising, without the gloss. It was about the way advertising promises that the same pap with different labels will give you special, unrepeatable gratifications" (ibid.).

xviii Lacan, op. cit.

xix Perloff, Marjorie. 'Differential Poetics.' Semtext 6 (2000): n.pag.

xx Published in Semtext 6 (2000): n.pag.

xxi Meanjin 3 (1999): 128.

xxii This tradition most likely begins with the accounts of the English adventurer William Dampier, who on the 5th of January, 1688, observed of the inhabitants of New Holland (Western Australia) that they "are the miserablest People in the world." Australian Discovery: By Sea (vol. I), ed. Ernest Scott. London: J.M. Dent, 1929: 60. However, there exist some notable exceptions in the body of utopian literature published in English, including Richard Brome's The Antipodes: A Comedy (1640)-a comedy of role reversals in which women rule men and people rule magistrates-and Henry Neville's The Isle of Pines, or, a late Discovery of a fourth ISLAND near Terra Australis, Incognita, by Henry Cornelius van Sloetten (pseud.) (1668)-a story of one man and four women shipwrecked near the coast of Australia, and who subsequently establish political and religious order based on European forms. Interestingly, this latter text was followed by a sequel, A New and Further Discover of the Isle of Pines (1669) in which Neville describes a period of "whoredoms, incest and adulteries," followed by a period of harsh laws (anticipating, among others, Reverend Samuel Marsden's puritanical observations of Sydney under Governor Macquarie a century and a half later).

xxiii Hughes, Robert. The Fatal Shore: A History of the Transportation of Convicts to Australia, 1787-1868. London: Collins Harvill, 1987: 43.

xxiv ibid., 44.

xxv Traumatic realism can therefore be taken to describe the on-going repetition of this missed encounter (the failure of responsibility). In this way, Kinsella and Warhol also enact a critique of what Leo Bersani has termed "the culture of redemption," exposing the aesthetic morality of art engagé as a form of historical-cultural revisionism. As Leo Bersani argues: "A crucial assumption in the culture of redemption is that a certain type of repetition of experience in art repairs inherently damaged or valueless experience." We might also say that, in "repairing," it re-places, or dis-places. Redemption, as a process of assimilation, perpetuates the "experience" of trauma as a hidden topos of incarceration, repression, amnesia for what it implicitly excludes from its economy of "corrective will." Cf. Bersani, Leo. The Culture of Redemption. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1990: 1, et passim.

xxvi The myth of an inland sea was "redemptive" in the sense that its waters were expected to transform the dry interior of Australia into a flourishing Eden. Industry later resurrected this myth, although its form is closer in appearance to that of Lasseter's gold, which Kinsella deals with in his Nebuchadnezzar/Lasseter poems. The Dantesque atmosphere of these poems, however, suggests the idea of a geographical hell as the destiny of industrialist greed.

xxvii The irony of the New South Wales penal colony having been established on land stolen from the Australian aborigines is one that still remains lost on many Australians today.

xxviii This calls to mind a statement by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, that "techné belongs to bringing-forth, to poiesis: it is something poetic." Heidegger, Martin. 'The Question Concerning Technology,' trans. W. Lovitt and D. Farrell Krell. Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell. Rev. ed. London: Routledge, 1993: 308.

xxix These contradictions may at first appear slight but in fact carry a deal of philosophical weight. Between proper, propre, and property, the sense of "own" moves from the reflexive to the objective mode-from an implication of "self," and what properly belongs to oneself, to an implication of something acquired externally and therefore supplementary to "self."

xxx We might say that the very structure of this "missed encounter with the real" is technological, that is to say poetic, and that it requires a mark of the unassimilable, which remains, like an unconscious, to haunt and disrupt the ordered exterior.

xxxi The implications of this for a "democratic" view of the American utopia are played out in several comments made by Warhol which point up the illusion of individual freedom by which modern consumerism is sustained (what could be called the democratising of the consumable): "What's great about this country is that America started with the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same ..." Warhol, Andy. The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again). New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975: 100-101. Warhol also makes a point of noting that "Those who talk about individuality the most are the ones who most object to deviation." Quoted in Swenson, op. cit., 61.

xxxii It is important to keep in mind that the juxtaposition here (between 'Baseball' and 'Gold Marilyn Monroe,' etc.) is Kinsella's, and that it is precisely this intervention in the serial arrangement of Warhol's images which gives rise to the possibility of reading them allegorically in the first place. Similarly, we must also not lose sight of the fact that here we are dealing with a question of mimesis, one which requires that we attempt to distinguish between "reproduction" and "repetition" in Kinsella's serial meditation "on" Warhol (an interesting feature of many of Kinsella's "Warhol" poems being the way in which they appropriate certain representational devices, such as the convention of entitling a poem 'On such-and-such.' For example: 'On Andy Warhol's Baseball and Gold Marilyn Monroe,' 'On Andy Warhol's Optical Car Crash,' 'On Warhol's Blue Electric Chair and Statue of Liberty,' in which Kinsella seems to be adopting a mimetic register which nevertheless is disrupted in the text).

xxxiii Warhol, Andy. America. New York: Harper and Row, 1985: 8.

xxxiv Warhol, Andy. 'New Talent U.S.A.' Art in America 50.1 (1960): 42.

xxxv Verse , 69.

xxxvi The ideology of THE LAND also amounts to a laying-claim to values of spirituality which are not only alien to white, Anglo-Saxon culture (which has never quite had a correlative to the northern European racial cults or the Hebraic obsession with a promised land), but remain fundamentally incomprehensible to it (without, that is, assimilating it to sentiments that are either steeped in nihilistic fervour or are simply trite or kitsch-both cases barely masking a contest between resentment and indifference that reveals itself in the daily hypocrisies of Australian political and social life).

xxxvii Cf. Lacan, Jacques. 'Freud, Hegel and the Machine.' The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book II: The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 19954-1955, trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: Norton, 1988: 64-76.

xxxviii Cf. Lacan, Jacques. Ecrits: A Selection, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridon. New York: Norton, 1977: 4ff.

xxxix Bois and Krauss, Formless: A User's Guide, 163.

xl Cf. Horne, Donald. Money Made Us. Ringwood: Penguin, 1976: 136ff. Horne's ironic term "The Lucky Country" aptly focuses this idea of the crude projection of nationalistic fantasies of self-affirmation and wish-fulfilment. The guilt with which Australia had always been tainted became the basis of a redemption myth: Australia, it's politicians decided after Federation (and particularly after the Second World War), was a land of "unharnessed resources" and "pastoral possibility." What Horne makes clear, though, is that this redemptive wealth was not the product of rational industry, but simply one of chance, or "luck." As a counterpoint to the dystopian experience of "trauma" that it conceals, the "Lucky Country" also describes an event from which the colonising ego is absent. This is an irony to which Kinsella often returns, employing the example of Warhol in a critique of the pastoral tradition and of pastoral industry, in which a compulsion to repeat describes the condition of vicariously lived experience which remains the common condition of (post-) colonial Australia.

xli Hughes, The Shock of the New, 348 and 351.

xlii A tendency, as Kinsella suggests, to "moralise / & catastrophise & lies / out & about before sequestering / downs the spout & closes / the ment (al) gap: lash / out" (Syzygy, 30: re (con) structure ing / damage control).

(c) LOUIS ARMAND, 2000. Louis Armand is a senior lecturer in the Department of English and American Studies, Charles University, Prague, and a lecturer in art history at the University of New York, Prague. He is the author of Techne: Joycean Hypertexts, Finnegans Wake and the Question of Technology.

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