REVIEW: Demon Miso/Fashion in Child by Joseph Mosconi

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By J. Fossenbell

Language constitutes a multi-use material to be employed in an ad campaign for a chain of mood-altering gastropubs. Or in the latest series of viral memes. This is shouting slogans for all levels. It’s Fun! Mosconi himself claims that Demon Miso “can be read and enjoyed by seven-year-olds (and has been, or so I’ve been told),” and I believe it (except for the “adult content” that would go over said seven-year-old’s head). This book/book-length poem hits me in some as-yet-unnamed part of the brain that lies at the triangulated center between eye, tongue (both language and muscle), and funny-bone. It’s a game of Mad Libs meets connotative bumper cars.

From vaguely suggestive aphrodisiacs:

1 2 3

to more firmly suggestive euphemisms:

4 5

to international curiosities:

6 7 8

to hilarious sound-bites:

9 10 11

to fantastic could-be product names:

12 13 14

to potentially symbolic enigmas:

15 16

Then, when we reach the end of the book, Mosconi reveals:

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Now I know why so many pages/phrases/stanzas/lines rang with familiarity as I read. I have eaten at numerous restaurants in Asian countries with badly- /comically-translated items. I had my own list of favorites going in my journal: “Open Bible Culled Flower” and “Whole Fish Don’t Forget Manhood” were two of the best. I wonder, then, did Mosconi simply collect a long list of such oddities from foreign travels and assemble them into this spiffily-colored series of amusing mini-posters?

Well, no. Mosconi appropriated much of the language for the book, as I would have guessed, but that he also “simply made up” some of the language himself. He characterizes his “method of composition” as “rather conventional collage.” This comes from Mosconi in conversation with his partners from the L.A.-based Poetic Research Bureau, Andrew Maxwell and Ara Shirinyan. Their site explains their mission is “to cultivate composition, publication and distribution strategies that enlarge the public domain.” They go in for “appropriations, impersonations, ‘compost’ poetries, belated conversations, unprintable jokes and doodles, ‘unoriginal’ literature, historical thefts and pastiche,” and publish, among other things, “the occasional literary fetish objects of stupidly incomparable price and value.”

This particular text could be read as digestible fetish object. The design (by Affect Studio) is the text. There is no excerpt except a screenshot. Quote equals thumbnail. The use of trendy, pop- and ad-friendly colors and the Insaniburger font, are central to the experience. Readers today know what a font signifies almost as instinctively as we know how English® tastes when it’s been jammed through the Google translate machine, or deformed by untranslatable nuances. In fact, Demon Miso/Fashion in Child is a text as much about translation as anything else: from language to language, from plate to alphabet, from word to meme, from color to emotion, from form to sensation. If we can assume that a certain portion of the lines/pages result from bad translations, we have to marvel at just how delightfully wrong things can go when people translate cultural products into a language outside their own system. Suddenly body parts and religious references. Suddenly euphemisms rife with meaning in some pidgin that exists only in between linguistic borders that never actually touch.

I find my verbal brain, too, spending a portion of reading time attempting to translate the evocative colors that pass before my eyes into words: Is that apocalypso drab? Oh, what a lovely shade of mudsucker nigiri. Hm, what is that—bloated whorehouse pox? I almost start to believe Mosconi has coded this naming diversion into the pages themselves. We translate what we eat into nourishment or waste; growth or shit are the natural and only consequences of consumption.

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His choice of words in the explanatory note seems significant: “These are the names of all the things I’ve eaten.” All of them? And not dishes, but things. All the things we eat is a lot. The joke is on us. Mosconi’s CONSUMPTION UNITS are small in word count but Big in size. Whoppers, you could say. They are bites that we swallow whole more than we actually “read.” Yet size is half the point, according to Brian Kim Stefans in his essay “Conceptual Writing: The L.A. Brand.” He points out that Mosconi has a thing for large fonts in this and previous publications, and I agree with Stefans that the largeness represents an interesting crossover from private reading into public viewing on, say, a bus or train, where unsuspecting people could accidentally read the text from across the aisle as you flip or scroll through the pages. So then, is the potential to be accidentally consumed a power move? When we read without meaning to (as when the language of billboards and other ads is forced upon us), who’s in control? [I’m currently reading Demon Miso on my laptop in a café, and I notice a few people standing behind me in line are peering curiously at my screen as I scroll up and down. Whose power is at play here? Whose privacy is being compromised?]

Scrolling/flipping are a rhetorical mode based in speed, movement, and action. In physical form, I’m sure the sight and feel of the fully saturated colored pages would be gratifying, but to me, scrolling through at a moderate or fast pace seems to be the method of ingestion best-suited to the Dadaist flavor of this particular menu. Scroll, bite, scroll, chew, scroll, swallow. In this way, a marquee. In this way, neon signs and vertical spreads. Fast food.

If size and scale are half the point of this object’s design, then the other half is color. In fact, half of the book’s 146 pages are pure, solid colors, matching the text on the preceding page. In his 2013 book, Fright Catalog, Mosconi displayed a similar interest in investigating the effects of color and color combinations. On mood, on meaning, on how we digest. The same is true of food presentation, we could point out. When we order off the menu, we’re going for a visual/psychological as well as a gastronomical experience. When we consume units of poetry, the same is (could be/should be) true. This positions us as consumers even when participating with “pure” Art. Mosconi’s attention to the subtleties of affect based in form and color would be scarily reminiscent of marketing techniques if they weren’t done with a nod.

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I wrote a few months ago about what I read as the presence of the stuplime (to borrow Sianne Ngai’s term) in Chris Sylvester’s STILL LIFE WITH THE POKÉMON—a conceptualism based in excess and mechanized dumping. By contrast, Mosconi says his books Fright Catalog and Demon Miso/Fashion In Child “deliberately invoke the legacy of minimalist poetry and text-based visual art of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s” and that he doesn’t think of the books as “strictly conceptual.” Indeed, if a half-cynical criteria for being “strictly conceptual” is that it is more productive to talk about than to read in its entirety, then this minimalist side of the arcade token must be the “leniently conceptual,” for it is more interesting (starting with possible) to view/read from beginning to end than to “just” talk about. Or at least equally so. Yet I keep coming back to Ngai’s term. This still feels related. Perhaps it’s an exercise in stuplimity driven, instead of by voluminous and baffling repetition and reproduction, by exquisite linguistic denaturalization, earthy gut-bomb humor, and a disruptively pleasant pseudo-banality.

By design.

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Make Now Books, 2014

PRINT $25 | FREE PDF

J. Fossenbell writes, teaches and flings snow in Minneapolis. She recently graduated from poetry finishing school and became a mutha.

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