‘Barf Manifesto’

Pub date December 3, 2008
SectionArts & CultureSectionLiterature

Maybe it’s the urge to purge months of presidential campaign propaganda or eight years of George W. Bush. Maybe it’s the holiday season. All I know is this: barf is in. The evidence is all around us. On TV, you’ll find Hurl, "an eating competition with an extreme sports chaser" that couples tunnel rides in steel balls with mac ‘n’ cheese gorge-fests in an attempt to make contestants vomit. On the magazine racks, no less a trend bible than Vice recently devoted an illustrated feature to a guy whose raison d’être is puking upon select stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Based on the photographic evidence, he chooses his targets well ("Wesley Snipes is my least favorite person on Earth. Have you heard about his ear hair?"). But I do have to quarrel with his belief that Elizabeth Taylor deserves a Technicolor yawn.

Without a doubt, the best addition to the thriving contemporary vomitorium is Dodie Bellamy’s Barf Manifesto (Ugly Ducking Presse, 32 pages, $7). The fact that Bellamy’s text is a sort of celebratory puke in response to Eileen Myles’ 2004 essay "Everyday Barf" only fortifies vomit’s role in contemporary consciousness. The publisher’s promo text for Barf Manifesto cheekily likens it to The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas as "an intimate account of a long, sometimes tortured but enduring friendship between two female writers." Taking that cue, I’ll risk sacrilege and say I prefer Bellamy’s book to Gertrude Stein’s.

It’s a mistake to assume, as I initially did, that Barf Manifesto might ideally be placed next to Valerie Solanas’ similarly slim yet convulsive 1968 SCUM Manifesto, which was recently republished by BüK America at the street tract value of $1.49. Not a rant so much as a pair of roiling bursts of text, Bellamy’s book has feminist intent, but ultimately it presents an artistic credo, in the manner of Andre Breton’s paeans to Surrealism. She sister-spews a trail of artistic connections that leads from Myles’ essay to the nauseating beauty and power of Op Art figurehead Bridget Riley’s imagery.

Bellamy weaves through the intestinal curves of a complex anecdotal maze — we accompany her and Myles through the violent smashing of a piñata, a vivid confrontation over a toilet, and a hilarious exchange about Lynndie England. Along the way, she works out the mother issues so often connected to stomach sickness. She declares that she’s out to "attack the essay" and (carrying on from her 2006 book Academonia) to "shit on academic pretension," but really, she pukes on the doctrinaire BS of insidious Professor X’s across the land. In the process, she transcends the occasionally overbearing libidinal influence of Kathy Acker on some of her other work. A bravura lindy hop through the possibilities of English, Barf Manifesto is too good for a porcelain god.