May 4, 2023

Intensive Maximalism: after Mike Kleine’s agbogbloshie

By PJ Lombardo

PJ Lombardo reviews agbogbloshie — the newest edition to Mike Kleine's experimental oeuvre, independently released in December of 2022.

Ekphrasis is creative intimacy. To love artworks, not as consumer objects, but as attributes of eternity: this is the task of ekphrastic poetics. In our time, both oversaturated & infused with scarcity, consumer desire gnaws through life & sails the scrap off without pause. Market-cynics claw to commodify every breath. Intimacy faces an existential dilemma. Mike Kleine wrote a book where something else is possible; the book’s called agbogbloshie, & the possibility is something like friendship (wrought inside music & turmoil).

Agbogbloshie is a place in Ghana. Tons of electronic waste arrive there all year (illegally). The logistical systems responsible are headquartered in so-called developed nations, which rely on punishingly cheap commodity flows to keep racing.  This is the only possible result of extensive maximalism, or “first-world” consumer economics.

Extensive maximalism exists solely at the expense of a much lusher (& more livable & more thoroughly gorgeous) intensive maximalism. The result of meticulous creative determination, intensive maximalism is limitless magic, an excess of focus that discovers abundance anywhere, independent of quantitative consideration. Think: aurora borealis, basement punk shows, the shimmer of everyday love. “the palladium witch emerges from the debths of the lake. she is all rott’d out.//g’wain retches.///endgodtransmission//there is a[n] chemical stench in the outside breeze.” Psychedelia against psychosis. Cognizant, ferocious, this poetics works to explode sense-perception, dismissing clinical objectification in favor of an undying devotion to the mechanism of feeling.

Intensive maximalism is achieved through art-works & love-works, like friendship or ekphrasis, or any other form of intimacy. Today, intimacy exists in peril as the machinery of the west tightens its psychic vice. Set an eye steady enough & the connection is obvious (“what we’re left with is/this tinted mish-mash of/diluted roses and brown/golds”). Kleine’s agbogbloshie writes camaraderie against depletion. In the book, a band of e-waste surfers course through heaps of garbage in some curious quest for survival. The horizon gunks & curls & blurs. “the sudden sunn-/concentration of//hedonic space tone/assessment cycles,//pushed by scented water/vapours/brings/forth//the/hyposmia.” Immiseration is neither ignored nor conceived as totalizing. Life on Earth is still possible, against all these afflictions.

However oblique, agbogbloshie is a narrative work. Our voyagers sift through gullies of abject glimmer, where “solemn lakes” ripple with threat. Characters operate in sum & in fractures. Many appear but once, as dashes of action, while orcs flash in dark light, “and/oh, how the fires/burn bright.” These figures produce a monstrous unity that waltzes past the individual. Gusts of texture, voice & harmony, spackle readers lustrous. Kleine doubles this jaggedness with structure. His lineation is thorny, slant & precise. His stanza-alignment proves volatile sensitivity. With irrepressible style, Kleine contributes thoughtfully to the project of intensive maximalism. “we dredge thru a corridor dotted/with haptic sensors. o’neal/loses a leg and we toss/aeroplane fuselage down one/of the grottos - to taunt/the beast.” agbogbloshie throbs odd, too runny to capture, sliding, swelling across every page. Arrhythmic punctuation clips, crunches like footsteps through torrented labyrinths. Tons of e-waste bubble frankensteinian inside a spelunker’s star.

agbogbloshie is futurist, but not the way some readers might expect. Kleine’s futurity has nothing in common with the hollow daydreams of the so-called first-world. True futurism derives from spontaneity, volatility, presence. agbogbloshie rings from the vector of history dissolved against unbelieving eyes. Futurity is not fantasy: it is the pressure of today’s contradictions, bleating in your ear, right now. The future does not belong to VC-slurping Bay Area “neo-feudal” rubes or the carnival barkers of capitalist exhaustion. Futurity belongs only to those who can learn how to live in the drek, in all its tedium & tragedy & persistence.

Precedents for the text include Will Alexander, Rene Char, maybe even the Book of Psalms: upheaval-poetics, cut against the traffic of exploitation. Any attempt to circumvent profit-sociopathy requires visionary surplus. Therefore, the dissolution of one’s own world-image always involves intensive maximalism. Put more simply: the future is a poem that shreds itself. “i toss a synaptic jammer into/the next room/without/looking…” Characters frequently dispatch these “synaptic jammers,” “pop-smoke” canisters, various sense-bombs. Goo-stung syntax defies itself inside agbogbloshie’s hurricane face. Lines break on the syllable; sentences suspend themselves in ecstasy. “Ecstatic” & “ekphrastic” share the etymological root ek, meaning “outside.” Kleine’s ekphrasis is committed to an art-life larger than contemporary narcissism. Outside the citadel of self: outside the consumption of oneself-as-object: there dwells creative intimacy & the determination we have yet to find.

Throughout agbogbloshie, doom-rock bands like Have a Nice Life or Godspeed You! Black Emperor wave their golden hand. Kleine leaves some opacity here: readers might not recognize “theEternalWorm” or understand why there’s a second n in agbogbloshie’s “sunn.” But the references blend well. There’s a greater friendliness to this technique, meaning Kleine’s allusions don’t require foreknowledge. Instead, the references are bent to operate more like features of the world & less like nods from an insider. The sonic massivity of HaNL’s deathconcsiousness twinkles the panorama eerie, spacious, gloomy-soft. Ekphrasis is psychedelic, in that it permits an exogenous addition to the experience of both writer & reader. This psychedelia could also be called camaraderie.

“there is a war happening in the/desert right now, becauseofoil not in the/desert.” Despite all travails, our ekphrastic voyagers face expiry, as agbogbloshie barrels towards faceless disaster. A “corpo office tower” casts its pall from the west. “i thought there’d be more time,” a voice interjects. I did, too. What Kleine’s latest release left me with was a great sense of urgency. agbogbloshie is a sky-wrought bleat. Kleine’s concluding prayer is for human life to be “enshrined” in “golden bitumen,” but this prayer can’t be fulfilled from a distance. The shrine can only be built inside a poetics of unity, relentless in its pursuit of art-life communion, courageous enough to crash against the vampires.

agbogbloshie: Stick your face inside the dumpster until your eyes flush gold.

agbogbloshie: Paint yourself a bitumen love.

Sam Pink, regarding his own novel, The Garbage Times: “You are always the garbage-person to your own life…You’re either a garbage-person, or [just] complaining about the smell.” Although Pink & Kleine seem to be very different writers at a glance, agbogbloshie shares Pink’s viewpoint. Trash-denial is untenable. The only life worth living is a life that incorporates junk into its terrain. agbogbloshie proffers a way in: solidarity & strangeness, blaring from one speaker, ekphrastic love to beckon readers towards the melody of our shared debris.

PJ Lombardo:

PJ Lombardo is a writer from New Jersey. He co-edits GROTTO, a journal of grotesque-surrealist poetry. His work can be found in Mercury Firs, Works & Days, Lana Turner Journal, the Brooklyn Rail and elsewhere.

David Kuhnlein:

David Kuhnlein lives in Michigan. His critical writing is featured in 3:AM, Full Stop, DIAGRAM, and others. He's online @princessbl00d.

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