The Switch by Shiv Kotecha: Fucking, Not Fucking, Friendship

THE SWITCH  by Shiv Kotecha. December 2018. Wonder. $14.95. 192 pp.

THE SWITCH by Shiv Kotecha. December 2018. Wonder. $14.95. 192 pp.

So what’s gonna be your point-of-entry? he (could be a lover, could be a friend, could be god, I’m not telling) asks when I excitedly explain the book I’m reviewing, The Switch by Shiv Kotecha. What’s that real-world experience you’re going to tangentially link to your analysis?

Hah! There are so many

I say because I do not want to say that this very moment is my best point of entry, haha. I say this, too, because I am upset about my formulaic rhythm of critical writing being found out. Like when, you know, someone points out any of your behavior patterns, especially the ones that help you maintain your emotional distance lol.

God, yeah, there are so many ways in.

Like Shiv, I shall not say I love you and I shall also not say that I shall not say I love you, I shall not acknowledge even such things, not because it is untrue, no, not because it is forbidden, no, but because it is too precious a thing to talk about, and it must instead be acted out. Shiv (Kotecha) said that Kenneth (Koch) said that Patrizia (Cavalli?) said that. And like, sex too. We’re all talking so much about sex and its rules and putting all this sex in all these boxes and everything. And now? Sex is about as sensual as a board game these days. Any attempt to talk about love and sex reduces it, and it’s a pity that even now, even right now, writing this, I have thrown something precious in the trash. I can’t help it. It would have been much less tacky to let that thing float like an orb in front of me, blocking my vision of everything, then to try to make sense of it and corrupt it with ever-failing descriptors.

brotherly Kiss of Peace between Saints Paul and Peter

brotherly Kiss of Peace between Saints Paul and Peter

Shiv manages it, you know. He manages to talk about love, or talk about talking about love and how talking about love mucks up love. But he doesn’t muck it up, at least not when he’s writing, even though his writing is so tempered by fears of and apologies for mucking it up that surely, you’d think, he must muck it up. Except he doesn’t. Only kinda. The whole thing, it’s a 3-part collage of longform poetry, prose, commandments, and images to love (eros & philia & agape), and inevitably, to falling short of love’s ideals.

It begins with the longform poem “I’m Sorry Shiv, I’m Sorry Diana” about two individuals with names like those of gods who are stuck in a state of discussing the erotics of their relationship, talking so much of fucking that it is generally unclear if they are even fucking at all. The Diana of his poem is a caricature of Kotecha’s real-world roommate, close friend, and fellow poet Diana Hamilton. For the duration of the poem, she is given a cock & Shiv insists that he cannot fuck her because he is straight (in reality, not so). The titular “switch” appears right off the bat: the queering of philia to eros, although it could be the other way around, hard to tell really. The philia in question is that of a New York School fanboy--Kotecha casually namedrops not only Diana Hamilton, but also Kenneth Koch, Bernadette Mayer, and Catullus (who was a New York School poet born far too early). Just like Frank O’Hara might talk about Jane Freilicher or whoever. The philia in question is even compared to that between the Saints Peter and Paul, who in spite of their conflicts, share a “brotherly” Kiss of Peace, but wouldn’t it be so hot if they really made out, really went for it? It’s a hilarious joke that Kotecha makes with and about Hamilton, immortalizing her in his eroticism of their friendship. I hope she loved it.

Agneaudoux  by Hervé Guibert. 1981. Gelatin silver-print. 8 3/4” x 5 7/8”.

Agneaudoux by Hervé Guibert. 1981. Gelatin silver-print. 8 3/4” x 5 7/8”.

Emotion changes art--I retained that much from my attempt at reading Viktor Shklovsky’s critical writing. Shklovsky would know, so much of his work having been produced in the negative space of love, having been tasked with not writing about love, he wrote about art instead. Kotecha uses Shklovsky’s example as one of his models for his “Obedience Residency Manual”, a collage of works that are about or derived from not saying “I love you”. It’s part instruction, part image (self-portraits taken of other subjects), and part short fiction. I do not know why Kotecha tasked himself with not saying “I love you”, but I like to think it is because he wanted to protect love--because he was so aware of the way that full knowledge of meat industry production will turn you vegetarian. One of the short fictions in the collection, “Discarnate Nude”, details a guy jacking off to a porn while being more preoccupied with the production of pornography than the erotics of the thing. That’s called estrangement, and it’s what I felt when I went on a family trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and realized I couldn’t enjoy anything there genuinely because I was so preoccupied with the mechanisms of kitsch and irony, while my mom loved the whole experience, and I envied her for it. Estrangement, or ostranenie, is the presentation of what is familiar in an unfamiliar way in art and I personally believe that it has ruined me as a human. Only kinda.

Kotecha’s other model for “Obedience Residency Manual”, photographer and writer Hervé Guibert, was described by Andrew Durbin in “Skyland: A Diary”, a diaristic essay contained in the premiere issue of Tinted Window, as using “death and illness to dissolve and restructure his characters into different versions of themselves through a kind of jerry-rigged immortality.” Durbin also says of Kotecha, in that very same piece, a piece in which Durbin and Kotecha are in lazy pursuit on a holy Greek isle of a long-lost painting of Guibert, that “[Shiv] was one whether I knew it or not, a poet, and he’s now written several books. I like them all. They’re about oversharing.” Within The Switch, Kotecha incorporated a short fiction piece entitled “The Hypothesis of the Stolen Head” which parallels Andrew Durbin’s, with a number of exceptions. It is, I should note, a complete synchronicity that both of these artifacts managed to find themselves in my possession. I supported the kickstarter for Tinted Window, the first issue of which was entirely centered around Hervé Guibert, because Jeffrey Zuckerman contributed a translation and I had a really positive experience with his translation of Dusty Pink by Jean-Jacques Schuhl and figured he probably has good taste in translation projects. When Kotecha mentioned Guibert, I thought it was an interesting coincidence; when I realized Kotecha’s fiction paralleled Durbin’s piece, I figured it was an act of God (or Lord Shiva).

Durbin gives a rather straightforward, undramatic, account of the events shared between him and Kotecha on the isle of Patmos, the home of the cave where John the Revelator received the Apocrypha, which was closed when Shiv and Andrew attempted to visit. In the end, Durbin was not able to locate the missing painting. It’s got this sentimental tone of “maybe the real Guibert was the friends we made along the way”. Kotecha’s alter-ego Jai within his own account is a hyper-conscious, loathsome character who in a dehydrated, drunken fervor blacks out and steals the skull of St. Thomas the Doubter from the cave which was closed in Durbin’s account. Jai dies clutching the skull, never to leave the isle of Patmos. Even the gospels of the New Testament diverge. Shklovsky said that the diary is often unreliable for its self-censorship. For whatever reason, Kotecha left Andrew’s alter-ego as Andrew, but changed his last name Durbin to Berrigan, either another nod to New York School poet Ted Berrigan, or a friendly poke at Ted’s son and fellow poet Anselm Berrigan. Regardless, it is in the tradition of Guibert that Kotecha substitutes death for love. Durbin said of Guibert’s writing that, “Together, they form an urgent coda to a life spent recording almost everything in near humiliating detail… Defecation, fucking, not fucking, friendship, addiction, desire, disease, and death.” Kotecha’s blatant broadcasting of intimate, if potentially falsified, details about very real friendships, his discussion of fucking or not fucking, love and not saying it, drunkenness, and deific dissolution--that’s all Guibert, baby.

Picture of Lord Shiva in deep meditation.

Picture of Lord Shiva in deep meditation.

Kotecha’s alter-ego dies with his thumbs gauging the eyes of St. Thomas’s skull on the isle where John received Revelations and then Kotecha concludes The Switch with a revelation from Hindu god Lord Shiva. Like the old mystic in Borges’s fiction “Circular Ruins”, Kotecha molds a Lord Shiva who creates and destroys, but is ultimately the creation of another, more mortal creator, who chokes his own dick as he muses (or doesn’t) on being and love and death. Kotecha’s Lord Shiva erotically dismembers the human body, selecting highly specific moments of flesh and rapture akin to a close-up shot of goosebumps and sweat in a porno. Shklovsky once described a “whole”, as in, a whole being, as having the potential to be experienced as “finished” or as fragments. Every fragment may be viewed as whole and every whole viewed as a fragment.

As with the body, so with The Switch. Each of its numerous elements can be isolated as its own throbbing member, or taken all-together, the united deific body restlessly twitching, asking what to do with itself, if not to speak.


KATHERINE BEAMAN

Katherine Beaman