Reviewed: Vita Nuova II By: Michael Hessel-Mial Published: Klaus e_Books
- From the first page I fell in love with this book. Over an image of a computer screen Hessel-Mial writes “opened a new tab to kiss you on.”
- And I was skeptical of this whole undertaking. Maybe skeptical isn’t the write word. When this book appeared my expectations flew through the roof. As I recently told a table full of writers at a conference where I knew no one after having consumed a little too much wine before dinner: I fucking love Dante! And it is true. I do love Dante. He did things for literature and language no one had done before. Thankfully, Hessel-Mial lives up to my expectations.
- Back to that first image/text combination. Dante opens his book with the words “In quella parte del libro de la mia memoria…/In the book of my memory…” Nothing could be closer to this for us today than the tabs we open in our internet browser. Over and over again I leave dozens of them open, afraid of never finding things again (yes, I know bookmarks exist).
- At this point I knew Hessel-Mial would do Dante justice with his adaptation/rendering/translation— it remains unclear to me just what to call Vita Nuova II.
- If it’s an adaptation, and maybe it is, because the visual element of this work is at the forefront, then it achieves many things. One being the creation of a completely new text inspired by a much older one. This book can certainly stand on its own for readers less familiar with Dante’s text. Hessel-Mial writes poems and makes collages that can actually stand apart from the book as a whole as well.
- It is a translation, however, as well. In the book In Translation Eliot Weinberger writes in his essay “Anonymous Sources (On Translators and Translation)”: “Every reading of every poem is a translation into one’s own experience and knowledge— whether it is a confirmation, a contradiction, or an expansion. The poem does not exist without this act of translation. The poem must move from reader to reader, reading to reading, in perpetual transformation. The poem dies when it has no place to go.” Here we have a new reading of La Vita Nuova and Hessel-Mial creates many places for lyric to go.
- Anyway, Jasper Johns once remarked “The best criticism of a painting is to put another painting next to it.”
- And because it’s an ebook it mimics the medieval manuscript in its visual element. As the great art historian Michael Camille points out in his essay “The Pose of the Queer” in Queering the Middle Ages, “Compared to its disembodied mediation in the neatly printed modern edition, the medieval manuscript was almost prosthetic in its extension and incorporation of the body.” Reading on our phones and tablets is the most prosthetic reading experience possibly ever known to humankind.
- The very first poem is one of these that can stand as a poem on its own, though, I find it much more interesting and fun in the context of the whole book. Hessel-Mial writes,“how desire is media & media is shared.”
- I like how there is a line drawn between how we use media to express our feelings and how the lyric poets did something very similar. Both share a public forum. Both are less concerned about reality and more about impressions of reality. But then, is there a difference?
- The difference could be that Hessel-Mial is in many ways a conceptual poet. He takes different elements and media from our culture, blends them, remixes. But all of this is done with the utmost care. Vita Nuova II manages to be both conceptual and filled with emotion.
- This is something we don’t encounter nearly enough of— poetry that moves forward conceptually while also searching for some sort of earnestness.
- The virtual lives Hessel-Mial writes about in these poems are also searching for earnestness. His narrative voice is searching for something real. Or at least orgasm.
- The text seems to beg for a return to a poetry filled with genuine feeling but yet it also feels trapped in our present ironic state, ever so slightly, or maybe very, afraid to admit to real emotion.
- There are many difficult elements to parse in this ebook. Hessel-Mial doesn’t shy away from them:
- Towards the end of the book there is this image and text that deal with rape culture:
- While both men and women are objectified in the virtual world women are the ultimate object . He recognizes this acutely. And of course he is a white, cis, man, but he is also a member of our society and it is clear he is criticizing this cultural norm.
- In a recent article from The Margins, author Ken Chen points out the cultural and racial problems with avant-guard and conceptual poetry. He brings up extremely poignant and true facts about appropriation in writing.
- Vita Nuova II uses a lot of language from our contemporary culture— and while it is sometimes ironic, Hessel-Mial’s concern feels real and his grappling with these issues seems to be coming from an honest place.
- Ken Chen’s article quotes Heriberto Yepez. Yepez wrote one of my favorite pieces ever about the concept of Ethnopoetics. At the end of his “sketch” he writes:
Ethnopoetics as: “ethno” as the permanent prefix of every poetics.
“Ethnopoetics” not just applying to the poetics of the “Other”.
- Hessel-Mial writes from his position in the world and he recognizes where he is. He is also able to take a medieval European book of lyric and make that lyric exciting again for a new group of readers. He is taking something that is part of his own tradition and making something relevant out of it. And he is expanding its possibilities.
- Ethnopoetics as: the radical search beyond the end of translation. (Yepez)
- I have spent considerable time thinking about the bits about Adorno towards the end of the book. Adorno remarked once, referring to Dante’s poetics about the “integral romanticism of language.” I am trying to understand such a comment in regards to this book and it makes a lot of sense. Language implies that it is possible to communicate our feelings with other people. In Vita Nuova II Hessel-Mial is trying to communicate with us not only about poetry and contemporary culture but about the very nature of communicating itself. The internet age may have made romantics of all of us, returning to the written word and all of its strange possibility.
- Hessel-Mial doesn’t explain all of the possibilities of this text away. I like this. I like that he allows the reader to wonder and question without forcing an answer.
- Sure his self-awareness my all be part of his role as “the greatest poet alive” (as he calls himself) but it seems to be more than that. It seems to include a great return to feeling.