REVIEW: Fantasy by Ben Fama

by Nicky Tiso

If the confessional is at some level about dramatizing oneself, being able to produce a version of oneself that is manipulative in its very slight untruth, then it is either about producing an entirely unreliable personage . . . or about collapsing a self and a fantasy of self. – Trisha Low on Steven Zultanski’s Bribery and Brandon Brown’s Top 40

In Ben Fama’s Fantasy, there’s a difference between speaker and author subverting the confessional’s purported self-expressive function, which is what’s so great and what’s so terrible about its glamorous aesthetic that never really lets you in, but lets you know what it’s wearing (spoiler alert: Uniqlo). Fantasy puts the “mod” in commodity fetish. The poems are short, terse reflections on the simulacra of virtual life, from the perspective of a meaningless bourgeois retro haute leftist nihilist first-person young adult that comes so familiar to us millenials more comfortable texting than communicating face-to-face:

I think I’m in love with the world of billboards and magazines

It is so intrepidly based in fantasy

Like things online

And literature, all the immaterial world

I mean the actual world we live in all the time

Like mp3’s and visual art

That replaced painting

I dunno

Midway between Low’s theorized confessional extremes, Fantasy dramatizes the collapse of the self into the fantasy of the self within a hyper-real sociality where entertainment and politics, reality and the Internet, are indistinguishable. These are the fantasies borne of the cultural logic of late capital, not outside it: fantasies of popularity, wealth, youth, sex, and glamour. Rather than interiorize or express, the lines read like they could be repasted Google searches that reveal lifestyle habits, implying a psychology without making it knowable, and instead of a narrative its more of a text installation.

Satanic physical allure

Tropical contact high

Diane Keaton young

Diane Keaton hot

Celebrity impersonators

Soba noodles

Salmon wraps

Sushi rolls

The metaphorical emptiness of the language and lack of imagery make it as materialistic as the consumerist desires it conveys. You might say, why pay money for this book when you can just get this literature online for free in the comments section of your local Facebook feed? But one could just as easily say, why pay admission to look at Koons’ Hoover art object when you could just as easily go to a vacuum store? The book acts as cold reflection of technologically-mediated human alienation (“I know you about 3% / We’ve hung out / Then you moved to Los Angeles”), but it’s also lyrical and nonchalant about it. The diction is so anti-romanticist that the one simile I found in the book referencing birds stood out like the one fuck allowed in the scriptwriting of Breaking Bad.

I also want to ask the book the same thing the speaker in one poem asks a woman of her profile picture of Justin Bieber: Is it ironic? The pomposity of the tone is entirely contrived and desperately obsessed with its presentation within a privileged shell that wants not your sympathy, as most narrators do, but your envy – like a French rap song, cocaine and Perrier replace any sensitive discourse in what becomes an egotistical fantasy (“Aren’t you even curious / To see my hotel room / After I swim?”) that is simultaneously liquidated into a “thoroughly franchised landscape” of corporations, advertisements, and brands. As such, it inherits the New York School’s gossipy style while carrying it to its aporia, where the “numb, vulgar emotions” of the poet cannot be separated from the marketplace.

I share Georges Perec’s militant leftist stance regarding “literature’s real potential not to reflect the world as it is but ‘to make the radical transformation of our world appear obvious and necessary.’”[1] In contrast, Fantasy intentionally falls short of this imperative, more worried about attention and ‘likes’ and instant gratifications (“I’m gonna go shopping all afternoon / Then I’m gonna need to have sex with someone”), so that we the audience are faced with reconciling this affective or political incapability and alienation ourselves.

If such an aesthetic “fails to disrupt the boundaries between the worlds of fashion, art, poetry and performance, and engage new media,” as one reviewer critiqued, it falls short intentionally. This is either clever or lazy, or both. Because in the wake of so much white conceptual carelessness from Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place, and on the heels of the Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo’s postcolonial critique of white poetics, I find Felix Bernstein asks an important question in his article at Lemonhound: Is this bunch of self-consciously complicit yet still leftist bohemians [who are] somehow also a resurrectionary Marxist faction important to the avant-garde canon? 

 Well, are they? I find the book’s desire to be disembodied via the internet troubling in an era of so much embodied pain from PoC that don’t have access to these fantasies of the white imagination, and for whom rhetorically asking with a wink at the end of your poems, “Do you have access to that?” isn’t helpful. I want the book to do more than wallow in this contradictory space of the commodified art-object or the depersonalized person, which would ultimately require a kind of solidarity or political affiliation or engagement that this book is too busy being bored to undertake. Yes, that’s the point, but my point is, I don’t need the book to make that point anymore than I need Vanessa Place to quote Mammy for me to know racism is bad.

Ugly Duckling Presse (2015): Print $14, PDF free

[1] Perec, Georges. “For a Realist Literature.” Trans. Rob Halpern. Chicago Review 53.2-3 (2007) : 28-39.

Nicky Tiso teaches English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout and received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota in June 2015. His first poetry manuscript was a 2014 finalist for 1913 Press’ Prize for First Books, judged by Claudia Rankine. His writing can be found in TYPO, N+1, The Volta Blog, HTML Giant, Tripwire, and other places.

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