Signs and Abominations / Edition 1

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2000 Trade paperback New. Signed copy Trade paperback (US). Glued binding. 108 p. Wesleyan Poetry. Audience: General/trade.

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Signs and Abominations is a radical tour de force that interrogates the relationship between religion and art at the end of the 20th century in penetrating and sensuous prosody. It can be read as a series of damaged likenesses: humans as the damaged image and likeness of God, poems and other works of art as necessarily incomplete attempts to approach and represent the numinous and the ineffable.

The reader is guided through its five interconnected sections by diverse voices: Michelangelo, Andres Serrano, Flannery O'Connor, Emily Dickinson, Soren Kierkegaard, Augustine, to name a few. All of the book's figures — the child-Crusaders stumbling toward Jerusalem, the man who wants to preserve for posterity his body entirely covered with tattoos, Andres Serrano submerging a crucifix in his own urine — set out on a deformed search for signs of the divine among the abominations of the profane. These poems are brilliance cast back at the hypocritical religiosity of those who refuse to admit that the spiritual and the profane inextricably encompass each other, and that art and religion have more in common than not.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The record of a confrontation with modernity in which modernity's victory over faith is not acknowledged . . . Beasley finds in ugliness and in the profane an affirmation rather than a repudiation of the idea of God . . . The best poems here . . . have a density of language and observed detail that capture, in their vertiginous forms, the qualities of modern life." — Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
One hundred and fifty years ago, these passionate ruminations on the cultural and spiritual needs of a wayward people would have been cast in metered rhyme, but Beasley's latest poetic jeremiad isn't simply a premodern poetry prettified according to postmodern sensibilities; it's the record of a confrontation with modernity in which modernity's victory over faith is not acknowledged. Like Flannery O'Connor before him--an acknowledged inspiration--or Annie Dillard today, Beasley finds in ugliness and in the profane an affirmation rather than repudiation of the idea of God, and has consistently said so in books like Spirituals, The Creation and Summer Mystagogia. The best poems here, especially, "Hyperlinks: Incomplete Void" and the terrific "Mutating Villanelle," have a density of language and observed detail that capture, in their vertiginous forms, the qualities of modern life that the weaker poems rehearse more journalistically. Unfortunately, the images that fascinate Beasley--"Monica Lewinsky's/ blue semen-stained dress," "the plexiglass Popemobile," "Jeffrey Dahmer on A&E," "the lamb-clone Dolly"--more often don't quite come off as damaged signs of god, having been exploited so variously and so often elsewhere. Some of the metaphors and juxtapositions are fresher, but others are merely self-dramatizing ("All August,/ staring at Michelangelo's judging/ angels, eyes rolled up in their heads,/ I loathed// myself for my self-loathing"), or reveal a gift for description impeded by the book's primarily discursive thrust. In the end, the book stakes its success on the quality of its depiction and discussion of contemporary life, and from this standpoint, the results are only mixed. Readers may want to dig out Edward Taylor's meditations or Michael Wigglesworth's Day of Doom to experience this mode at the source. (Nov.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780819564566
  • Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
  • Publication date: 11/27/2000
  • Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 150
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.99 (h) x 0.46 (d)

Meet the Author

BRUCE BEASLEY is Professor of English at Western Washington University, a National Endowment for the Arts Writing Fellow, and author of three books of poetry, including Spirituals (Wesleyan, 1988). His second book, The Creation, received the 1993 Ohio State University Press/Journal Award, and his Summer Mystagogia was selected by Charles Wright for the 1996 Colorado Prize.

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Read an Excerpt

Signs and Abominations

By Bruce Beasley

Wesleyan University Press

Copyright © 2000 Bruce Beasley
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0819564559

Chapter One

Negatives of O'Connor and Serrano

... writer who see by the light of their Christian faith will have, in these times,
the sharpest eyes for the grotesque, for the perverse, for the unacceptable.
God created the body for a reason, and we were meant to exploit it.
O one, o none, o no one, o you:
Where did the way lead when it led nowhere?

Negative 1

Andres Serrano would jack off on Jesus

(the congressman said)
if the NEA would pay him to do it--
What this Serrano fellow did,
he filled a bottle with his own urine
and stuck a crucifix down there,
he is not an artist, he is a jerk--
--He jerks off
in the air, and photographs
his semen's fretted
transit through space, Ejaculate
in Trajectory, abjected seed. What leaves
the body. It's substance
he wants, not representation:
blood and cum, milk and Christ, submersible
icons. Black spume all around the Last Supper.
In O'Connor's bleeding, stinking, mad
shadow of Jesus
, cibachrome
Pieta in cow's blood, Jesus seethed in piss--
Strip of negatives, images
stripped down to their substance, stripped of their light.

Negative 2

No truth, shouts Hazel Motes, No truth behind all truths is what I preach ...

Stains of menstruation
Serrano preaches: used Maxi-pads, cratered landscape of blood.
Plotinus calls the physical world
the font of all defilements and confusions. It's unbodying
we want, unknowing, to know a God
luminous, incomprehensible
(Nor is He body, nor has He form or shape),
the Negative Way to That
Which transcends all affirmation--
Or so says Pseudo-Dionysius.
Jin, in his baby backpack, belly-laughs
at the woman's strap-on dildo
in Serrano's History of Sex, already, at six months, knowing
incongruity of breasts and cock--
Via negativa, radical denial:
to strip from what we say of God all that He is not
(Neither has He power, nor is He power, nor light)--
what's left's
shriveled, inchoate, known
incongruity of numinous substance and world ...

Negative 3

morgue Klux Serrano menstrual piss

the Internet tells me. Refined
search terms littering the bottom of the screen. Unholy
scat. Unbodying
quest: Show me where your wooden leg
joins on
. Serrano's
bloodscapes, Hazel Motes'
barbed wire and lime-burnt eyes.
Evil, I read, is nothing
but the tendency of things toward nothingness--
In a world that God made good, iniquity
must be like the zero, a hollow
that in multiplication reduces
everything to itself.
And so this apophasis, this
orbiting of the 0:
We have to approach supernatural grace
negatively, O'Connor says
(Grace would have to be violent to compete with the evil
I can make concrete), have to show where it's not, not where it is, tracing
the fretted tracks its long trajectory leaves.

Negative 4

Not where it is. In the Children's Crusade, 10,000 boys
straggled from France toward the Holy Land
(censers, wax candles, oriflammes),
chanting prayers for the Mediterranean
to dry up and let them cross.
At each walled hilltown outside Paris,
they pointed and cried, Is that Jerusalem?
Is that Jerusalem, the profaned
holy land just across the walled-off square,
is that Jerusalem, the plastic
Pope smeared with menstrual blood,
tabooed. Unbodying
debodied One, is that
Jerusalem, the chill
sea-wave rushing against those children's feet?
Or the seven
rotted ships that wrecked
halfway to Palestine
on San Pietro, the boy-pilgrims'
bodies washed, eternally
undecomposing, to that shore?

Negative 5

In Serrano's Auto-Erotic, the model
licks his own cock,
feeds his cum back to himself,
face lurid in burnt-red light, cheeks
hollowing to suck himself harder--
(I don't need no hep, says the Misfit,
I'm doing alright by myself)
Self-love, the concupiscent
tongue, cockhead's wet tip:
ache of the torso's contortion,
of self to self.
Unbodying quest, for substance: Love Him,
Meister Eckhart preaches, as He is: a not-God,
a not-Person, a not-spirit, a not-image
The Bible case
crammed with condoms
and a wooden leg. Deformed
, Augustine says, plunging
amid those fair forms
which Thou hadst made

Negative 6

Amid the fair forms, Serrano's
plexiglas Cross full of blood,
O'Connor's hermaphrodite, in its tent,
God made me
thisaway, I don't
dispute hit--
I don't dispute it, the secret,
the secreted
(blood, choler, phlegm, bile),
all things the flesh
can't keep, can't keep
hidden. All
defilements, all confusions:
crucifix lopsided on a mound of chicken hearts,
pickled brains floating in pedestalled vials.
Lashed Christ, tattooed into Parker's back, haphazard
and botched. Super-Essential
Darkness, God is beyond
any name we can give Him, any image
that would show Him, Dionysius tells us, beyond
all affirmation, all negation

Negative 7

Monica Lewinsky's
blue semen-stained dress, seized
for DNA tests. Evidentiary claims
on the President's cum.
There are no curtains in the Oval Office.
Newt Gingrich: "Eatin' ain't cheatin'."
For the purposes of these depositions,
an act of sexual congress shall mean
any and all genital contact
Ed Bradley, on primetime TV:
"When the President placed your hand
on his genitals, was he aroused?"
Meanwhile, the plexiglas Popemobile
in Havana. Mass in Che Guevara's square.
Eight-story banner of Christ. Pamphlets
to the people: The Pope
is not a politician, not a tourist, not
a magic remedy
. The press's
departure from Cuba to cover the semen spot,
dress hauled off and scrutinized
thread by thread, like the Holy Shroud. Was he aroused.

Negative 8

White Christ
purified in a vat of milk.
Hazel Motes: One Jesus is as bad as another.
Negatives, darkened texts,
reversed icons, blotched, from which
the representational illusion proceeds, print, and print--
Of neither the things that are, nor of the things that are not
From his butcher on 38th, Serrano
hauls back to the studio his gallons of blood
Neither does He live, nor is He life
In a dream, even books
are mortal: crusted
tumors on their pages, leeching
fleshwounds on their covers
Neither can reason attain to Him, nor name Him, nor know Him
slammed and jeweled cathedral gates)
Hazel Motes: Where
has the blood you think
you been redeemed by
touched you?


Excerpted from Signs and Abominations by Bruce Beasley Copyright © 2000 by Bruce Beasley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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