Document Zippo


Part artist’s book, part deconstruction of various icky obsessions, L.A. Ruocco’s Document Zippo deserves a spot on that short, groaty shelf devoted to the literature of abjection. From the first chapter—a meditation on the narrator’s stained underwear and how it got that way—to the last, a Moroccan travelogue focused on a quest for decent toilet facilities, one reads with a certain queasiness. While I see a precedent in ’80s performance art by women like Karen Finley who specialized in speaking the unspeakable,
Zippo reaches new depths of the quote unquote filthy, especially since it’s unmediated by politics or pathos. Section titles should be sufficiently illustrative: Snot Museum, Crap-Happy
Warehouse, Intestinal Nest. The
obsessions seem narcissistic to the point of childishness, but the narrator is too self-conscious
to be unconscious of that fact: “We have come to redefining ourselves from the very
beginning when our bodily
EXCRETIONS defined us.”

Much of the book is devoted to the narrator’s relationship with boyfriend Jonny. There’s the chapter where they discuss whether—if he were a woman—Jonny would put Star Wars action figures up his vagina. (Yes, but only Chewbacca.) Nearly every scene is set in a café or somehow involves food, all of it O-shaped: onions, eggs, matzo balls. No one really eats here, where gaga meets gag reflex. It’s more about plugging a hole. For example, our narrator thinks about pretending to lay an egg by putting one up her ass. Lacanians will have a field day with this material and Ruocco knows it, devoting the center of the book to mucking about in poststructuralist gobbledygook: a “grand model of mirroring…a verbal dyslexia consisting of sub-palindrotic nuances…” she dubs her work.

While illustrating the
possibility that theory is shit, Zippo is also part of an
important but still developing genre of works by women artists who attempt to treat the body
as text and to rewrite the self.
It’s just that in this case, it’s a rather horrifying read. I mean that in a good way.