A J Carruthers Reviews Holly Childs

By | 1 May 2015

Writing written over writing

Danklands by Holly Childs
Arcadia Missa, 2014

What Walter Benjamin identified as ‘aura’ finds curious analogies to the ‘post-medium’ present. Tan Lin writes of how for Andy Warhol ‘Language is a means of exchanging who we are (our product) for someone we aren’t (our aura)1.’ Similar to a psychotheoretical split between our Symbolic and Real personae, the contemporary ‘aura’ is something like the sheer secondary quality of everyday life; the curious, removed, if symbolic fascination of what might be happening when nothing is happening: the generic publicity and ‘intermundane’ privacy of relaxation (if we can here call ‘intermundane’ the vacuous yet binding, commodified space between earthly bodies).

writing written over writing
similar words superimposed
loved it when I found it on Napster
Björk with a crystal in her mouth
isolation of the island
two hot metals meet
once you lost your voice
(Danklands, 15).

Intermundane life can be less-than-meditative. Lin, again, writes that ‘ONLY POETRY CAN BE TRULY MORE RELAXING THAN TV.’2 We can think of how our online aura (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), is a poetics of the obvious, the sleepy, the typical, and if relaxing, the intermundane. If poetry can by more relaxing than TV, perhaps we need to start paying less attention to it. This doesn’t mean we need a revival of the ‘death of poetry’ or other similar alarmist rhetoric, it is simply to say poetry might thrive better if it were part of everyday life, just like background music. Writing might be written under other writing like graffiti, or Brian Eno; layered and looped.

The special literary quality of what happens when nothing special is happening has been staple foci in varying intensities across the different arts. Danklands, Childs’ second major release after No Limit (Hologram, 2014) is interesting because it doesn’t necessarily try to be interesting, even though it is. The great writing of our time is able to capture just stuff, mundane stuff happening brought to the reader because it probably would have been ignored.

The world is ambient in affect and in characterisation. In fact, Andre, one of the book’s several persons, has an exhibition Selected Ambient Works that another person, Stan Sage, will attend. Gallery spaces linger and haunt at the edges of the book. There’s even an artist proposal for a collaborative ‘dank dreamscape’ (76-7). The cover artwork is, in fact, that of the Australian artist Marian Tubbs, an extraordinary image of pinks, gelatinous greens and what looks like a distorted, pixelated Sanrio puppy.

Yet what the life of the imagined exhibition does say something about the curious status of material life in the book. Weirdly immaterialist readings of materiality return, again and again, in the book: why do we still enjoy the printed book, an object with considerably low market value? The often indexical textures of Holly Childs’s Danklands suggest an engagement with the material text at the same time that its conceptual parameters immanently question the material text. Book/Björk: ‘it’s not against the rules to listen, is it?’ (Selma in Von Trier’s Dancing in the Dark). Is it ok to lose your voice in the book? Does the reader understand?

The book is probably post-genre, and certainly post-medium, even though it is printed, and writing. But this is writing with an indeterminate status: Danklands is, variously, part novella, part diary, part chatlog, ‘hypoballad,’ and part list-poem. Astrid Lorange, blurbing Danklands, calls it a kind of ‘long poem’ and I would agree with that designation. Its chapter divisions could be also read as modular parts – partly narrative and partly not. But these are monikers for modes of writerly work that will cross camps, get expansive, document and demediate its own poetics. Danklands is a quintessential genre-crossing, genre-obliterating work, whose social narrative is both generic and specific, subjective and allocentric.


Reading Holly Childs in the living room. Reading Holly Childs on the computer. Reading Holly Childs on the street. Reading Holly Childs in the kitchen. Reading Holly Childs in the bathroom. Reading Holly Childs in the bedroom. Reading Holly Childs in the study. Reading Holly Childs on the tram. Reading Holly Childs at the tram station. Reading Holly Childs in a building. Reading Holly Childs on the bus. Reading Holly Childs while asleep.

These are just some of the places I had read Holly Childs. Danklands is more readable, relaxing and ambient in its style than most novels. If it is gripping, the grip is loose, and that’s a good thing. The place, pace, or scene of reading may vary. You will be introduced to five settings early on in the book:

five settings:
            possibly you'll want to get on board once I have more of the
story mapped out
            writing a book is just making decisions


There is no doubt that, textually speaking, Danklands is writing with depth-perspective. It’s writing written over writing: layered, messy, bodily, documentarian, anti-narrative, narrative, unflinchingly a presentation of the infinite biotic and virtual adaptability of Pharmako-Capital. In short, Danklands is clearly open in its work with language (in the sense of work). It’s a text that includes evidence of its own making: an open, dissipative, breathing structure: ‘reader writer breathe slow’ (47). But there is also a sense that the writing is flat, as much about information management, ‘just making decisions.’ Writing is a question of placement, planning, proofing. The writer is just someone who places piece of information in order. This doesn’t mean that the scene of writing is a place of ease:

                              Eyes hurt. Sleep now. Restart computer and f.lux is
            again. screen kind of grey. The sun is about to come up.
                          blue to sleep
                          purple for a quick sunrise
                          clear light blue breakfast

Notice in particular how narrative depth but perspective is flattened. Each of these lines, a different ‘colour’ (and affect) exist side by side both as continuous lines and as separate, unrelated object-forms. There may be something of the artistic movement ‘Superflat’ here: a repudiation of the three-dimensional.


Most of us chat online. All of that language, or ChatLang (what you say on Facebook Messenger or text message) is now emphatically the contemporary vernacular. Why should there be a special language for poetry, a pure or untainted language, untouched by the contemporary vernacular, the language we all speak? Think, for instance, how fake conventional lyric language now sounds. Some still claim that the ‘average reader’ is on the side of the verse-lyric. Like, really? Nobody speaks in the official verse-lyric voice when they go about their daily lives just doing things. The ‘average reader’ will totally get the following lines which are really lyrical free verse, but with an alternate tonality to the normative sonic texture of the lyric:

Lana del Relationship
long distance nothing
go to sleep
trying everything
sleeping beauty, colour therapy
chronic fatigue
drone boning
i love flying; poems
bratz doll
what will i write for you
when will i be finished?
what am i writing?
universal light
paper and pen in your altered state
feel like vomiting
open yourself up
for all the stories and parts i didn't write down
will write a chapter a day
bottled water as lover ... bubbles, pressure
desert fashion. Qatar
don't know everything/anything
reviews of Holly Child's No Limit
perhaps i need to put it like this, scared
write a plan, a chapter per day
  1. Tan Lin, ‘Warhol’s Aura and the Language of Writing,’ Cabinet Magazine. Issue 4: ‘Animals’ (Fall 2001)
  2. Lin, ‘Anachronistic Modernism,’ Cabinet, Issue 1: Invented Languages (Winter 2000/1)
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