Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Thursday, December 15, 2005
from 1001 Sentences
The poet in America is often happy.
Re-reading last night Guy Davenport's Every Force Evolves a Form, after realizing earlier that that kind of discursive form has a lot of appeal to me as a writer, not just potentially or generally but does so right now at this particular moment. I've been toying with different ideas for writing projects after scrapping the Sex Hat manuscript. World Jelly is out now, and "Complex Sleep" will be out fairly soon. This other thing, 1001 Sentences, is getting close to halfway done. That's enough right now for that kind of language looking; I don't necessarily need to collect and publish all my stretchmarks. I'm taking notes/doing research for a longer piece I want to tackle in a year or two. The immediacy of poetry, which is often its draw -- to be constantly be creating the face/voice -- seems to drift my attentions away from the sort of discursive inquiries I'm increasingly wanting to develop.
Also, increasingly isolato, by choice. I wonder if there is not an inherent trouble to naming a group, to constructing a boundary: he is in Lucipo, she is not; I am a Flarfist, you are not; that is Quietude, but this is not. The question maybe is not so much 'does the name make the boundary' than 'how does the act of naming dictate the shape of the boundary.' The one(s) who claims the name guards the borders. Is the act of naming (dictating the boundary lines) anything other than a power play, however well intentioned. Eventually that boundary will be guarded. Guarded by criteria of membership, authenticity, historicity.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Happy retirement to the sweet swinging, slick picking, helmet-in-the-field wearing John Olerud. Two way star at Washington State (pitcher and hitter). Survivor of brain aneurysm (it's why he had to wear the helmet in the field). One of the few players to ever jump directly from college to the Show without putting in any time in the minors. Made a run at .400 with the Blue Jays. Clutch foundation of the Mets. Class act with the Mariners. Bowed out as a supreme platoon and bench player with the Red Sox. One of my favorites.
Also, a player in maybe my favorite contemporary baseball anecdote.
Rickey Henderson and Olerud were teammates with the Mets. That offseason, Olerud signed as a free agent with the Mariners. Rickey was released by the Mets the next season, and signed with the M's. Before a Mariners game, Rickey is talking to Olerud, and asks him why he wears a helmet in the field. "I had a brain aneurysm in college," Olerud says, "if I get hit in the head with a ball, I could die."
"Oh," Rickey responds, "that's wild. A guy a played with on the Mets last year was the same way."
"I know, Rickey," Olerud responds, "that was me."
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Active weeks on the Lucipo listsev. If you're not a jerk, you should join up.
My last three posts, out of context, give some notion of how my brain is functioning right now, and to serve as further evidence of my deep love affair with my own voice:
To echo Lord Watten, but "ideology, politicization, and old-fashioned literary criticism" ARE my interests and obsessions. It could be matter of preference, but my favorite artists seem to take on these matters pretty overtly.
I usually find myself just as much alive reading and discussing lit crit as eating a banana in my boxers. I'm increasingly skeptical of the kind of Cartesian split that would privilege either activity as inherently more alive than the other. Though it is nice to use that split if only to think of really intellectually eating a banana, or monkeying around and throwing poo in theory.
Anyway, unlike Chris, I'm an intuition freak, but I extend intuition into the bibliography of the projects I undertake. As soon as the semester is over I'm psyched to do some of that intuitive research: I've got my eyes on Joan Jonas, Lynn Hershman Leeson and Cindy Sherman as artists operating in those realms I'm interested in. I'm excited to find ways of intuitively tying my notion of their images, theories and ideas along with the other stuff I'm dragging in, like Aby Warburg, Gertrude Stein, Olson and Piers Plowman.
I actually AM planning on having a bibliography for the next big poetry thing I wanna do.
Lit crit and theory used to freak out the bubbling poet in me because I thought it was telling me everything I was doing wrong. Then I figured it out: it is! And it's also showing me dimensions and sites for doing things wrong that I would've never intuitively been aware of. More autonomy! More sites for intuition!
(PS, note to the list: I will now be retitling each post I respond to with the term "Tostian" to up its Google factor. I suggest you do the same.)
(Another note: last week of the semester, please forgive the spazzing.)
I might be old-fashioned in thinking that any art that presents itself as unpolitical is taking a hyper-political stance (most likely one that affirms the current political/social/etc. status quo by considering it a natural, a priori state).
Benjamin's essay is a great read, and isolates really interesting sites of questioning: reproducibility, aura, the "binding" (my scare quotes, not his) of art to ritual, etc. I'm not sure I buy his argument though. Reproducibility doesn't subvert the aura of an artist for me, it displaces it. Warhol again. I go to the MoMA and see the soup cans. I'm still in presence of the Warhol aura, though it is different than a Pollock aura. It's less with the creation of that particular work than the creation of the Warhol machine, and it's more tied up in personality than Pollock (for me).
Benjamin's notion of reproducibility doesn't match up so well for me with the distribution of poems online, or at least not in 99.9 percent of the cases, because the poem, no matter how it is distributed, can still be traced back to the original authorial presence. One of my interests in poems that are Google-sculpted in that in one sense they frustrate this tracing back: do you trace back to the person who collaged the poem, or to the original sources? In another sense, because the phrases originate from Google searches, Google can be used to trace the individual components back to their (pre-collaged) sources. But there's not that much aura there.
I'm not too big of a fan of finding a static paradigm to use on any work. That always seems to just privilege and re-inforce the paradigm at expense of the work. Tost say: utilize paradigms to find out the interesting lines of inquiry, but stay mobile.
Tue Dec 6 11:20:55 EST 2005
I don't think you have to necessarily have a split between what is definite and what is infinite. Instead of being binding, rules of the definite could just as easily be freeing. Asserting the infinite within the definite seems to be a timeless trope in art.
If art is ever "not-art" I think it only is contextually, because it is so tied up with "art." Both sides of the fluid divide get appropriated by the other side eventually. The "not-art" can go under different terms: commerce, kitsch, bad-art, etc. Clement Greenberg stated that art concerns itself with causes, kitsch concerns itself with effects: basically, echoing Brian, kitsch presents the effects of art without any of the work/sophistication/attention that it is assumed art must require. Then you have agents like Warhol, Koons, Flarf who recuperate possibly kitschy material in such a way that runs counter to previous assumptions, and making it quote-unquote a higher art than more overtly artistic art (like Ab Ex), if only that it takes a higher degree of disinterest to appreciate what the art is doing (this higher degree of disinterest moving you more towards the concern with cause, and away from effect).
Of course it is interesting reading Greenberg now and seeing him present TS Eliot as evidence of high art, and Tin Pan Alley as evidence of kitsch; your generic more sophisticated person of '05 would at the least place Tin Pan Alley and Eliot at the same level, and would likely prefer the tunesmith to TS, if only that it takes a greater degree of sophistication to appreciate *as art* works that weren't originally intended to circulate as art, as opposed to things like The WasteLand which has all the markings of a huge Modernist art triumph.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
1. Ted Berrigan
2. Kenneth Koch
3. Charles Bernstein
4. Amiri Baraka
5. Gregory Corso
6. Bob Perelman
7. Anne Waldman
8. Harryette Mullen
9. Aaron McCullough
10. James Schuyler
Ten Poets Who Tend to Excite Tost About 50 Times More than They Do Other Peoples:
1. Allen Grossman
2. Mary Margaret Sloan
3. CD Wright
4. George Scarbrough
5. AR Ammons
6. Robert Penn Warren
7. Anne Carson
8. Susan Howe
9. Frank Samperi
10. Rosmarie Waldrop
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Semester winding down nicely. Can't wait to re-immerse myself in the next Fascicle, which should be out early January. Five times as big! I'm serious! Sensual! Intriguing!
Now to bed, and reading Jacob Burckhardt's The Age of Constantine the Great, which has been my before sleep reading lately. It's like crack made out of words.
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Marble, height 450 cm
Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican
Behold my humility.
[Insert references to martians and catcher's mitts here.]
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
from 1001 Sentences
Rather than a defacing, graffiti is in fact a kind of blurb, a description of the structure’s aura (e.g., Mona Lisa’s Duchamp).
Fearless quote concerning education:
"For good or ill the universities have taken over from the home much of the function of transmitting the values of our civilization. We cannot expect them to get more thanks for this from some of the students than the parental home sometimes got in the past."
E.H. Gombrich, "In Search of Cultural History," 1967.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Louis Zukofsky, Ronald Johnson, Jackson Mac Low, Hannah Weiner, Jerome Rothenberg, Lyn Hejinian, Lorine Niedecker, David Antin, Susan Howe, Clayton Eshleman, Rosmarie Waldrop, Bruce Andrews, Steve McCaffery, bp Nichol, Anne Tardos, David Rosenberg.
Araki Yasusada, Kent Johnson, Flarf.
Writers associated with transition (Jolas, Crosby, Gillespie, etc)
Critics, theorists, etc. (other than the big obvious gorilla ones):
Aby Warburg, Friedrich Kittler, Bernard Stiegler, Siegried Kracauer, Majorie Perloff, Jed Rasula, Benjamin Friedlander, Alfred North Whitehead, Don Byrd, Mikhail Epstein.
Big five gorillas I find most potentially useful:
Barthes, Baudrillard, Benjamin, Levi-Strauss, Lacan.
Some Notes on Araki Yasusada & Flarf
& the Unacknowledged Oncoming Flood of Hyper-Authorship
I think the notion of hyper-authorship is a potentially rich field for creative and critical enterprises, more so perhaps than hyper-text, which in my encounters for all its claims of audience participation still presents a closed and controlled system even if that system is expanded somewhat. It requests the reader to keep coming back to the surface and to interact with it and critique it, but I find it more interesting to interact with and critique the often still mythic creator of the surface. Elements of the text might be replaceable but what is still irreplaceable is the person in the jacket photo. This might be reducing the argument a bit, but the abolishment of temporal sequencing doesn’t abolish authorial aura. There is a likelihood that most of my prejudices are formed by my views as to how contemporary poetry is read and distributed; as many critics have pointed out, it is more the unique role or figure of poet (& his or her experiences) that is valued in our culture than the actual poems themselves. Landow addresses the hegemony of the unique individual when he discusses publishers insisting on only one author’s name appearing on texts in order to boost interest and sales.
In terms of 20th century and contemporary poetry, I find the Internet interesting in terms of distribution and interface. While I’m sure there’s a role for things like flash and hyper-text within my interests, they seem to resemble a re-packaging more than a restructuring of fundamental principles as they pertain to poetry. The Internet has begun to affect a sea change in the contemporary poetry world in terms of distribution and paradigm creation: the more experimental strains of poetry have taken to the online world as a means of archiving and distributing texts, as well as personas, in outlets like blogs and journals. Also, the entry level for editing and publishing an online journal is fundamentally different than for print: you don’t have to pay any dues. So this is slowly I think causing a shift as more young poets and readers’ essential view of the poetry landscape is tilted by the pre-eminence of the more experimental tradition readily accessible online.
Possibly more interesting is how the Internet is providing new models in terms of the basic interface of contemporary poetry, the poet herself. In addition to altering how the products of this interface are distributed, the Internet is also beginning to alter what goes into this interface, and how.
The notebooks of the Hiroshima poet Araki Yasusada were discovered by his son in 1980, eight years following the poet’s death. The manuscripts comprise fourteen spiral notebooks whose pages are filled with poems, drafts, English class assignments, diary entries, recordings of Zen dokusan encounters and other matter. In addition, the notebooks are interleaved with hundreds of insertions, including drawings, received correspondence, and carbon copies of the poet’s letters. . . . The writing found in Yasusada’s manuscripts is fascinating for its biographical disclosure, formal diversity, and linguistic élan. Much of the experimental impetus, interestingly, comes from Yasusada’s encounter in the mid-1960s with the poetry of the American Jack Spicer and the French critic Roland Barthes. . . In 1930 Yasusada married his only wife Nomura, with whom he had two daughters and a son. In 1936, Yasusada was conscripted into the Japanese Imperial Army and worked as a clerk in the Hiroshima division of the Military Postal Service. His wife and youngest daughter, Chieko, died instantly in the atomic blast on August 6. His daughter Akiko survived, yet perished less than four years later from radiation sickness. His son, Yasunari, an infant at the time, was with relatives outside the city.
Read “Mad Daughter and Big-Bang”
Responses to Yasusada:
Emily Naussbaum, from “Turning Japanese: the Hiroshima Poetry Hoax” (Lingua franca: The Review of Academic Life, November 1996)
Over the past five years, major poetry journals like Grand Street and Conjunctions have showcased a remarkable discovery--the work of Hiroshima survivor Araki Yasusada. Vivid, surreal poems and assorted literary artifacts (letters, drafts of haiku) appeared alongside a heart-wrenching biography: Yasusada, readers learned, had lost most of his family in the bomb blast. Hitherto unknown, this unexpectedly witty, experimental poet offered a striking new link between Japanese sensibilities and Western avant-garde poetics, with a style influenced by both renga and Roland Barthes. The writing impressed editors and readers alike with its brittle imagery ("When I hold by tongue inside a written sentence/it blisters"), so different from the sentimental voices of many other Hiroshima poets. Sadly, Yasusada had died of cancer in 1972, but his unruly notebooks, which were in the process of being translated, attracted enough interest to be considered for publication by Wesleyan University Press.
But even as Yasusada's resume grew, a rumor began spreading in the poetry community: There was no Yasusada, editors whispered to each other--at least not in the usual, one-author-one-body sense. The same manuscripts submitted to poetry journals (and mailed from a variety of locations, including California, Tokyo, Illinois, and London) had shown up on the desks of prominent academics like Marjorie Perloff, but with a notable difference: "Yasusada" was presented as an invented persona, the creation of one or more people intent on keeping its origins a secret. Messages slowly surfaced on the Internet warning editors about an ongoing deception.
Once work of the hoax leaked out, many editors who had published the writing—sometimes with poignant footnotes on the death of Yasusada's daughter from radiation poisoning—were furious. "This is essentially a criminal act," says Arthur Vogelsang, editor of American Poetry Review, which published an entire "special supplement" of Yasusada's work, complete with a fake "portrait" of the author, this past June . . .
The most obvious suspect is Kent Johnson, a 41-year-old professor of English and Spanish at tiny Highland Community College in Illinois. Johnson has been the primary clearinghouse for the plethora of submissions, follow-up letters, and theoretical exegeses surrounding the Yasusada writings . . .
But if Johnson is hiding in a poetry of witness protection program, he's not coming out any time soon. In fact, if he has his way, the question of Yasusada's real identity will remain forever in flux, a "hyperauthorship" which wriggles and splits like mercury. So far, Johnson has parried the questions of editors and publishers with Zelig-like skill. While some editors are angry at him, all have engaged in a complicated courtship that has left them experiencing a mixture of resentment, fascination, and a discomfiting intimacy. Several editors told Lingua Franca that Johnson had confided to them (under duress or as a slip) who the real author the work was. Alas, each of Johnson's answers was different.
Not to mention complicated. Here is Johnson's latest explanation for the origins of the work: The actual author, he informed Lingua Franca, is "Tosa Motokiyu," whose name appears as a translator in several Yasusada manuscripts. (Johnson insisted on communicating only in written form, co-authoring his faxed response, he said, with Javier Alvarez, a Mexican folk singer and possible collaborator.) Never heard of Motokiyu? According to Johnson, it's another pseudonym. As he tells it, "Motokiyu," who purportedly died of cancer last year, was the roommate of Johnson and Alvarez in Milwaukee in the Eighties. Motokiyu, says Johnson, created the Yasusada writings in an attempt to "imagine another life in the most sincere way he knew how...only by remaining hidden could he accomplish that." Johnson reports that "Moto" wrote 95 percent of the Yasusada writings-- and wished to remain forever unidentified. (Johnson acknowledges, when pressed about his own Ironweed poems, that ten pages of the Yasusada corpus are his. He says that "Moto" admired them and asked for them to be included in the Yasusada manuscript.) That's as deep as Johnson will go; he won't even say if "Moto" was Japanese, let alone a survivor of Hiroshima.
Marjorie Perloff, from “In Search of the Authentic Other: the Poetry of Araki Yasusada,” afterword to Doubled Flowering
Kent Johnson has, I think, done a brilliant job in inventing . . . a poetic world that satisfies our hunger for the authentic, even though that authentic is itself a simulacrum. . . .
Most academics today (and most poets and editors, after all, now hold academic posts) pay lip service to the Foucaultian notion of cultural construction, of discourse networks that discipline the individual talent. Hence the search for novel and interesting cultural positioning, as in the case of Araki Yasusada, that rare Hiroshima survivor to have turned up so conveniently so late in the day, with such a fascinating cache of never-before-published poems and documents.
Yasusada thus satisfies, as fully as possible, the current disciplinary demand. Yet, despite the continuing predilection for viewing individual poetry as the fruit of such cultural construction, there is another demand, this one deep-seated and instinctive, for individual authenticity, for uniqueness, for the Benjaminian aura that comes only in the presence of the Real Thing, not its copies.
Letter from Mikhail Epstein to Tosa Motokiyu, 1996, afterword to Doubled Flowering:
There is so much talk about hypertexts now... But what about hyper-authors? This question has not been even raised. Hyper-authorship is a paradigmatic variety of authors working within one (allegedly one) human entity. Hyper-author relates to an author similarly to how hypertext relates to a text. Hypertext is dispersed among numerous virtual spaces that can be entered in any order, escaping any linear (temporal or causal) coherence. Hyper-authorship is dispersed among several virtual personalities which cannot be reduced to a single "real" personality . . . Hyper-authorship is a virtual authorship in which real personalities become almost illusionary, while fictional personalities become almost real. This "almost" is what allows them to co-exist on a par in the imagination of the readers.
Previously the author was interesting to a degree his/her personality could illuminate the text and be instrumental in its understanding. This tendency culminated in the widely announced "death of author" by virtue of which text became a self-sufficient and self-enclosed entity. Now I am inclined to think that text is interesting as much as it is manifesting the multiple, infinite possibilities of its authorship.
Flarf is a type of writing with two basic characteristics: it contains many misspellings and socially inappropriate statements and grotesque images, and it is also (usually) written via Google. For instance, one may Google the terms deerhead, angel, and retarted and then collage together the results as they appear on the Google search page.
Flarf could be a more radical approach in terms of media in that it combines apparently active (the poet) and passive (the original writers) agents (with the passive agents not intending in most cases to create poetry), with that mix foregrounded in its 'user interface', while Yasusada is a more traditional either collaborative or creative effort that implies a multitude accessed via a complex, fictional interface. Hyper-textuality provides a model for Yasusada as I think it does for Flarf. Where they diverge is that the Yasusada text utilizes recognizably poetic devices & intentions (it's not the poetry that troubles) (as McLuhan said, new media contains old media, or as Jonathan Sterne points out, the content of new media is often that it can accomplish similar tasks as old media), while I think Flarf more radically remediates poetic assumptions.
Another interesting contrast is how Flarf embraces the idea of immediacy, and that this could be taken as a tactic for creating an impression of a kind of authenticity, while Yasusada looks to historical precedents of history-making to create its own simulacrum of authenticity. But also, perhaps complicating implied claims to immediacy/authenticity, Flarf poems are essentially reproducible as they arise not from the poet’s experience or emotions but from Google searches and edits. The poems arise not from uniqueness of experience, emotion or knowledge but from a reproducible process and a skill for editing that can be (presumably) learned.
I think another major aspect of hyper-authorship in its Flarf and Yasusada manifestations is that both assume a kind of single-author “interface” for the reader to encounter; the interface of either the biographical history and name of Araki Yasusada, or as the creative product of one K. Silem Mohammad (or perhaps "Flarfness" itself?). If the interfaces assumed by “new media” poetries such as the above are to be seen as a remediation of more traditional authorial interfaces (predicated more on the uniqueness of the poet), it would be interesting to see if, as Bolter and Grusin put it, old media poetries “refashion themselves to answer the challenges of new media” (15). If one of the goals of a poet is, like in virtual reality, “to foster in the [reader] a sense of presence,” then perhaps the poetic interface will have to update itself to this new reality.
One model for considering the interface hyper-authorship creates is comparing that interface to a desktop interface and its multiple windows: “The multiplicity of windows and the heterogeneity of their contents mean that the user is repeatedly brought back into contact with the interface, which she learns to read just as she would read any hypertext. She oscillates between manipulating the windows and examining their contents, just as she oscillates between looking at a hypertext as a texture of links and looking through the links to the textual units as language” (33). This is an especially apt model for Flarf or Yasusada texts when the creation of the interface is foregrounded and known beforehand by the reader. For instance, in a Flarf poem, a reader may consider 1) the text as a closed system of words (new critical), 2) the means by which to poet created the interface by collecting and cropping the found language, and also 3) the “original” contexts in which the language first appeared.
Read “Does Your Poetry Hold Up?”
Another trait both Yasusada and Flarf seem to point to is the all-encompassing power of the reading/writing act, and how individual identity can be blissfully and/or fearfully obliterated by it, that reading/writing can not only be an essential aspect of being, but can (does?) come to replace being. There is the possibility that this current reconsideration of writing/reading and the interfaces involved will be similar to Lacan’s statements about the power of “the gaze” in which he finds the phrasing “seeing myself seeing myself” too entrenched in a Cartesian stasis of selfhood that underestimates the absorptive power of “the gaze.” (Lacan may be arguing for a formulation closer to "seeing seeing seeing myself")
It might also be said that a hyper-authorship is a move not towards “reading myself writing myself” but “reading/writing reading/writing reading/writing my interface.”
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Siegfried Kracauer’s “Photography”
Kracauer’s thesis is that photographic images posit a reality very differently than memory does, and in many ways does so rather ineptly. But, because it cannot penetrate nor fix physical reality via consciousness the way art and memory can, photography may offer future radical possibilities.
To differentiate between the systems utilized by photography and memory, Kracauer introduces a picture of a “demonic” young film actress who is alive in the present; everyone recognizes her from the photograph’s likeness to their original perception of her (in a successful film). The photograph doesn’t stand for her actuality so much as remind the viewer of her actuality (which exists elsewhere). Kracauer also discusses a photo of a long-deceased grandmother as a young woman; the photograph is forced into a different role, as the person it depicts is no longer present. There are complications, though: it cannot resemble the memory-images passed down concerning the grandmother. In fact, one must be told that the person depicted is the grandmother; such a conclusion isn’t readily apparent from the photograph itself. Even further, it does not seem all that essential that the photograph even be of the grandmother: a photograph of any young woman of the time could likely serve the same purpose for one so distant from the pictured young woman’s photographed (now past) present. Kracauer’s assertion is that the grandmother’s image as a young woman in the photograph doesn’t mean she has transcended her time period; in reality, Time has appropriated this photo of her to make an image of itself.
Linking the logic of photography with the logic of “historicist thinking,” Kracauer introduces this recent mode by referring to examples of Goethe scholarship that produce an assortment of materials as though Goethe could be explained by simply “reconstructing [a] series of events in their temporal succession without any gaps” (425). Kracauer claims that this type of thinking arose at the same time as photographic technology, and that both seek to impose continuums onto reality; photography’s continuum occurs in space, historicism’s in time, but both assert that meaning is contained within and by their continuums.
Kracauer sets memory in contrast by defining it as essentially elliptical. Instead of seeking a linked continuum that presumes equal validity for each of its dots, memory selects images by their significance to the subject’s consciousness (whether the subject is fully conscious of the significance or not). This differs greatly from a photographic view of meaning that assumes a connect-the-dots totality as a basic necessity for significance. Memory would regard a photographic image as containing a lot of insignificant data, while photography would regard a memory image as consisting of random, even opaque fragments.
It indeed can be stated that memory images are inherently opaque since they are “embedded in the controlled life of the [subject’s] drives” (426) and therefore cannot be presented to consciousness with photographic clarity. However, a “liberated consciousness” may consider the memory image by setting it against what has been perceived to be the essential truth about the object; images that counter this truth will be rejected, while those that convey this truth can be bound together in a single “last image.” This is similar to how the initials of one’s name are bound as a single monogram. Legends and fairy tales exist as such monograms to capture the history of the people involved; in contrast, a photograph buries a person’s history under its indiscriminant spatial continuum.
In order to create a memory-image, art must not be bound to mere appearances. Portrait painters who aim at history will grant themselves the freedom to paint the person as they desire. It is essential that an artist not be content to recreate “mere surface coherence” (427). In the painted portrait, meaning (which is assumed to occur prior to the image) is created spatially on the canvas, while in photography the image however it occurs becomes the meaning, after the fact. The art image is “permeated by cognition” while the photographic image, being a mere surface reproduction, is not.
These differing modes greatly influence how time affects the images captured. A final memory-image outlasts time by lodging itself in (shared) memory, while a photograph is bound to the moment in which it occurs. When operating in the present and referring to a living object, a photograph captures the exterior of that object and functions as reminder of the object’s current bodily existence or status, as in the diva whose original image appears on screen and is still fresh in the viewer’s mind. However, since a photograph is so closely bound to the moment when it occurs, it loses its significance as an image of its object over time; eventually, neither the object nor its history are encountered in the photograph. In fact, the object is reduced to whatever surface particulars are captured within the picture’s spatial continuum and is “reduced to the sum of its details” (430). Like a ghost, the photograph becomes both funny and terrifying. Funny because details like the outfit or furnishings exist in the photograph as though they claim to be still relevant or normative, and the ineptness of this claim can provoke laughter. Terrifying because this ineptness was once the living present. For Kracauer, photography is the medium by which Time reveals how conditional our objects and our relation to them is: “We are contained in nothing and photography assembles fragments around a nothing” (431). A photograph captures not the object but rather the object’s placement within a moment’s spatial continuum: not the person or his or her history but rather “the sum of what can be deducted from him or her” (431).
Kracauer next addresses the proliferation of photographs in newspapers where there are images to satisfy the attentions of every possible consumer. The defining characteristic of the photographic papers and magazines is not the stance towards the objects implied by the photographs but rather the sheer multitude of the photographs and images; this multitude erases the possibility of a static critical stance. In order to match this imagistic multitude, the world has adjusted itself to become more photographic, desiring “to be completely reducible to the spatial continuum that yields to snapshots” (433). Kracauer concludes that since the specter of death is an essential part of the memory-image (as it strives to coalesce a true image that will signify its object’s history after its death), it then stands that the world’s hyper-consumption of photographic images is “a sign of the fear of death.” Photography has created the illusion of an eternal and photographable present that has infected the world outside its frames.
To develop perspective, Kracauer states that photography is the final stage of an evolution that began with the symbol, the product of a consciousness so contiguous (hyper-near) with nature that symbolic meaning was originally always physical and sensuous. Eventually, as consciousness becomes more aware of itself and distances itself from the physical world, meaning grows more abstract. But cycles occur in which images re-assert their power, as in allegories. As opposed to symbols, in which the image contains the thought, in allegories the image is assigned to a thought and is thus separate from it, as though “consciousness were hesitating to throw off its shell” (434). This creates an increase in awareness of the “natural foundation[s]” of consciousness by highlighting the provisional nature of its assignments. Kracauer then makes an unexpected move in his argument: if the society proposed by the photos in magazines and paper (i.e., a fully capitalist society) were to fail but the newly created consciousness survived, now less bound to its previous chains, it would be in a uniquely privileged position to completely break those chains.
By imaging a world already reduced to its rearrangeable components, photography establishes a historically unique perspective in which society presents itself to itself in a manner freed from its own subjective point of view, and the sheer multiplicity of the images “are incorporated into the central archive in unusual combinations that distance them from human proximity” (435). This world is not held together by consciousness, which forces consciousness to confront and reckon with it as a multiplicity of images now separate from the original spatial and temporal orders in which they first appeared. One implication of this is that these are also the original spatial and temporal orders from which memory-images (and their corresponding truths) are chosen; freed from these orders, consciousness can see how provisional they actually are, and that “the valid organization of things is not known” (436). This reshuffling of orders is Kracauer’s “go-for-broke” scenario.
Is Kracauer succumbing to a kind of utopian, technological determinism? Can an argument somewhat similar to Baudrillard’s be made that a proliferation of disconnected images will simply become the new physical reality that (mass) consciousness is bound to, and that this new reality is more easily manipulated by the powers-that-be than the old reality? Did photography create its particular point of view, or did it spring forth to match such a point of view?
Friday, November 04, 2005
Thursday, November 03, 2005
More amazed than anything
I took the perfectly black
with the one large eye
in the center of its small forehead
from the house cat's bed
and buried it in a field
behind the house.
I suppose I could have given it
to a museum,
I could have called the local
But instead I took it out into the field
and opened the earth
and put it back
saying, it was real,
saying, life is infinitely inventive,
saying, what other amazements
lie in the dark seed of the earth, yes,
I think I did right to go out alone
and give it back peacefully, and cover the place
with the reckless blossoms of weeds.
As a graduate of a pretty traditional (and 4 year) MFA program at University of Arkansas, I feel fairly confident as to what is workshoppable and what is not. A very small range of poetries I think are workshoppable, or at least a very small range of poetries were workshoppable in my experience. For instance, most of my stuff would trigger either "is this poetry?" discussions, or "I like/dislike it but don't know why." Typical enough for anyone in our program edging away from New Critical criteria. It's a good rite of passage, learning how to defend your impulses and trust them.
I did learn how to try to help fellow students write the poems they were trying to write, regardless if I shared their aesthetics -- my approach to this was very much in terms of strategies and tactics. Theory never seemed to work in workshop, as much as someone like Michael Heffernan would try to push people to reconsider how they were using their poem to look and think and feel about things. Those kind of changes usually stem out of conversation, or reading. Anyway, just took about five-ten minutes to try to tighten up Mary Oliver's poem while staying true to what I take her intent to be. Nothing radical, mostly trying to cut out the slack in the phrasing; I tried to leave the imagery and turns as she has them.
Mary Oliver's "The Kitten" would not be out of place in one of my workshops. So, if I was in that workshop, this would be my proposed revision:
Mostly I was amazed.
The kitten, perfectly black,
was stillborn. And
there was only one eye
in the center of its forehead.
I considered calling
the local paper
or giving it to a museum.
Instead I took it into a field
behind the house
and put it back into the earth.
"You were real," I said.
"Life is infinitely
"What other amazements are there
among the dark seeds of this earth?"
I did right: to go out alone
and give it back,
to cover the place, peacefully,
with the reckless blossoms of weeds.
Working on revising it, I think, even beyond its impulses in terms of self, the basic writing of the piece is pretty slack -- unnecessary details (taking it from the housecat's bed), and also the dramatic pacing (I don't see any need to state that one buried it in the first stanza and then repeat it in the third: why not cut it out of the first and then have that action be the answer to the proposed museum/paper calling) (also I rearranged the paper/museum order to highlight the difference between giving the kitten to a museum and giving it to the earth). I also thought it would work better for the speaker to address the kitten directly, to make the scene more active, more direct. I tried to snip out what I thought were slack phrasings throughout, and rethink the pacing of some of the statements; for instance, at the end, I thought it'd be more effective to juxtapose "peacefully" more directly with "the reckless blossoms of weeds."
I still think that if the (revised or original) poem is moving at all, it is because of the situation evoked (the plain fact that a kitty died and that it was somehow deformed), and has nothing to do with the writing of the poem: the poet did have to choose this as an event to discuss, so if one is moved by the poem, you have to give the poet credit for that. But even to evaluate the poem under what I take to be Mary Oliver's intentions, the writing itself is quite weak. I think the revised version is a little tighter maybe, which is usually a virtue in a short narrative lyric like this.
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
In happy news: Scott Pierce has done a gorgeous production on World Jelly.
In honor of my crankiness, here's an empty space that once held a mash-up poem inspired by the 'dead Cyclops kitty' discussion at Kasey's blog.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
I'm flying up to NYC on Friday.
To read w/ Lisa Jarnot at my friend Matt Henriksen's Burning Chair Reading Series: that will be: Sunday night.
Creeley Memorial Saturday night. And World Series maybe.
I only give readings of any length at all maybe 2 or 3 times a year.
So it's always a big deal for me. Especially out of town. Always try to reinvent myself to myself at these big deals. Been working on a set list and new poems. Practicing. No prose poems (g'bye
security blanket). Nothing too funny either (g'bye security helmet). Working so damn hard I can hardly write these sentences, friends. (This is actually my opening poem.)
Will be my second time in NYC. I've also been to London once and Chicago three times, DC once and Philly twice.
I've met very few of my heroes (but met John Taggart this weekend) but a number will be at the memorial for Creeley (who is also a hero).
Might get a chance to say thank you to John Ashbery, Rosmarie Waldrop and CD Wright. And say hi to old and new and future pals.
This past week or so has been one of those rare week or so windows where I think: I've got this poem writing business figured out. Only happens once or twice a year, but shit gets done.
Monday, October 24, 2005
"It is [...] extremely naive to look for ethnology among the Savages or in some Third World--it is here, everywhere, in the metropolis, among the whites, in a world completely catalogued and analysed and then artificially revived as though real"
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Act your age? I think I do. I just turned 30, am married now. Have swore off excessive drinking. Doing sit-ups, dressing nicer. Thinking about what changes I should make before becoming a father, etc.
Born on what day of the week? Dunno.
Chore you hate? Is calling people a chore? If so, that. I hate the phone.
Dad's name? Ron.
Essential makeup item? Well, I used to wear eye-liner as an undergrad and start of grad school, or also sometimes when playing music. Nail polish as well as an undergrad.
Favorite actor? Sterling Hayden maybe, from The Killing, Asphalt Jungle, Dr. Strangelove. Also Will Ferrell.
Gold or silver? I decided to get a silver wedding band, and that's my first piece of jewlery ever, so silver.
Hometown? Born in Springfield, Missouri. Schooled in Enumclaw, WA.
Instruments you play? Played very rudimentary guitar and sang (think more out of tune Lou Reed) in a band called Black Cassette, and bass in a band called Dora Maar. Still play the guitar sometimes for fun.
Job title? Grad student.
Kids? Not yet.
Living arrangements? See earlier meme.
Mom's name? Teresa.
Need? To find a way to go to sleep (I get insomnia for a night or two every month)
Overnight hospital stays? When I was born? Was in a bad car wreck in 3rd grade, but don't think I stayed over night.
Phobias? Mildly phobic about a lot of things: heights, close spaces, big dogs, flying, etc.
Religious affiliation? Christian, though non-denominational right now.
Time you wake up? Depends. 10ish.
Unique talent? Used to be able to remember the position players from about every baseball team from the 80's (1989 Reds: Joe Oliver C, Chris Sabo 3rd, Barry Larkin SS, and so on). Can't anymore, which is surely a good sign.
Worst habit? Used to be drinking too much. Now, not exercising enough.
X-rays you've had? Broken my right hand a couple of times. Mouth, leg, head. Lots, I guess.
Yummy food you make? I make good pasta.
Zodiac Sign? Leo.
This meme kind of sucked, maybe it sucked enough to make me sleepy . .
1. Alias First name?
2. Were you named after anyone?
I'm not sure. I should ask. I don't think so.
3. Do you wish on stars?
No, but I do make wishes on loose eyelashes and then blow them.
4. When did you last cry?
I teared up a little seeing Craig Biggio tear up about the Astros making it to the World Series. Last serious cry was when I hit a baby deer with my car (the baby deer survived though!).
5. What is your favorite lunchmeat?
6. What is your birth date?
July 27, 1975 (same day as my doppleganger, Alex Rodriguez).
7. What's your most embarrassing CD?
John Coltrane, Giant Steps.
8. If you were another person, would you be friends with you?
Depends what other person I'd be. If I was another me, I'd be a little skeptical of this me.
9. Do you use sarcasm a lot?
I guess so (see answer to number 7). I also still like to sarcastically make poop and pee jokes. By sarcastically, I mean I find it funny to act as though I thought poop and bodily fluid jokes in and of themselves were funny, and that it was socially acceptable to make them in public. I used to do the same, sarcastically make asshole non-PC jokes but it made me be an actual asshole too often. (Like the time one of my professors at Arkansas referred to Rita Dove as a kind of an example how to mess up your writing career, and that now she writes bad poems but nobody has the heart to tell her so she doesn't know. To make a joke, he then said, "like the way nobody had the heart to tell Eddie Murphy he couldn't sing." And I figured this was a good time to be funny, so I added "or like no one had the heart to tell Stevie Wonder he couldn't drive." I couldn't figure out why no one was laughing, then I remembered I was sitting behind a really kind older blind lady. I've been trying to cut down on the sarcastic non-PC jokes since that [and a couple possibly worse] incident).
10. What are your nicknames?
11. Would you bungee jump?
12. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off?
13. Do you think that you are strong?
Physically: I did until Ken Rumble beat me in arm wrestling.
Psychically: I'm really stubborn on things, if that counts.
14. What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
15. Shoe Size?
16. Red or pink?
17. What is your least favorite thing about yourself?
Hyper-competitiveness/chips on my shoulder/need for attention.
18. Who do you miss most?
Miss seeing all the time: My grandma. Paul White, Rett Peek, Robert Bell and other Arkansas friends.
Miss being alive: my grandparents.
19. What color pants and shoes are you wearing?
20. What are you listening to right now?
Froggies out in the woods. Music I listened to today while reading or driving: some Can albums (Ege Bamyasi, Landed, Future Days), London Calling, Exile on Main St., Born to Run, Nebraska.
21. What did you eat for breakfast?
22.If you were a crayon, what color would you be?
23. What is the weather like right now?
24. Last person you talked to on the phone?
Leigh (my wife). Last non-Leigh: old my friend Will Manning who lives in NYC.
25. The first things you notice about the opposite sex?
26. Do you like the person who sent this to you?
Mr. Insomnia? No.
27. Favorite Drink?
28. Hair Color?
29. Do you wear contacts?
30. Favorite Food?
Chips & salsa, reuben sandwiches, sushi.
31. Last Movie You Watched?
40 Year Old Virgin.
32. Favorite Day Of The Year?
This year, wedding day. Other years, probably start of baseball playoffs.
33. Scary Movies Or Happy Endings?
I hate scary movies, and I haven't been to a massage parlor for a while, so neither.
34. Summer Or Winter?
35. Hugs or Kisses?
36. What Is Your Favorite Dessert?
I live in a nice little three bedroom house in the woods 15 minutes outside of Chapel Hill, NC that my wife Leigh and I rent from a super friendly hippie couple: she designed it when she was single and contracted him to build it when he was single and they fell in love building it, got married and built a second (dream) home and now rent this one to us for much below market value. I think we would stay in this house the rest of our lives if we could.
38. What Books Are You Reading?
For classes: Julian of Norwich, Hegel, German Essays on Art History, lots of articles. For fun: a couple of critical studies on Charles Olson, re-reading Olson's The Special View of History, Kevin Magee's Tedium Drum, Erin Moure's Little Theaters, Brent Cunningham's Bird & Forest, re-reading Ronald Johnson's The Shrubberies, read Alfred N. Whitehead's Symbolism book, which was kind of a breeze, but having trouble bobbing along w/ his Process & Reality right now.
39. What's On Your Mouse Pad?
40. What Did You Watch Last Night on TV?
Nothing last night. Tonight watched the Astros-Cardinals.
41. Favorite Smells?
I really like it when it I get out of the car after driving down our gravel road and driveway at night and I get out of the car and the air smells like dirt. I also love the smell of cut grass.
42. Favorite junk food?
Chips & salsa.
43. Rolling Stones or Beatles?
Stones, though I was a Beatles man for years and years. I can't think of a better album than Exile on Main St.
44. What's the farthest you've been from home?
Monday, October 17, 2005
Plenty of baseball, plenty of Olson, plenty of reading for my classes. Just typed up a little summary of a lecture by Aby Warburg, early 20th century German art historian who was new to me, but who seems very aligned with my sympathies, and seems similar in important ways to figures I get drawn to like Olson, Stein, Rothenberg or Barthes in his methods and motivations. Gonna post that lil' summary writeup below in case any out there is also interested in models for figures like this who re-conceptualize their field via immersion in other not immediately related fields (Olson in everything, Stein in psychology/automatism, Rothenberg in tribal cultures and anthropology, Barthes in about everything Olson didn't get to, and so on). Ok, my two cents on Aby Warburg, who I'm excited to investigate further. I'm really surprised Olson apparently wasn't aware of this guy, as he seems to model a lot of Olson's methods and leanings, but doesn't (in my brief reading of him) seem to have as firm a grasp of all the possible implications of his methodologies, but again he seems to be a good bit ahead of the curve, and my reading of him is very brief. Regardless, he's an interesting figure so far to look at.
Okay, okay! two cents, and hopefully the terminology isn't too overwrought (the summary applies terms from previous readings in the class):
Art historian and founder of a famous research library now located at the University of London, Aby Warburg proposes a unique methodology for art historians. Schiff’s description of Warburg’s library as a “tool for all those whose research transcends the purely formal study of art in the direction of other historical realities” (lvi) in the introduction to our book evokes a sense of Warburg’s proposal to move beyond limiting categorizations and pre-suppositions to a more holistic and inter-disciplinary view of an art historian’s role in understanding a “cultural psychology” of expression and imagery, as well as a more complex understanding of an artists’ (as well as a patron’s, artisan’s, citizen’s, etc.) role in constructing, altering and perpetuating this psychology.
I’m not an expert in these following two writers, but Warburg seems to anticipate at least aspects of Claude Levi-Strauss (who immersed himself in tribal cultures to study the effects of writing on the culture, and who also constructed a history of table manners) and Roland Barthes (who immersed himself in various aspects of fashion design to understand the semiotics of that field). Or, closer to my heart, Warburg’s lecture anticipates the 20th century poet and historian Charles Olson, who studied among other fields Mayan culture, non-Euclidean geometry, the history of Western expansion, the economic histories of his adopted hometown of Gloucester, Mass., the cosmologies of Jung and Whitehead, and Moby Dick to arrive at a notion of Post-Modernism (some argue Olson was the first to coin this term though his Post-Modern is very different than our understanding of the term). Olson's Post-Modernism is a state of being that is similar to contemporary tribal as well as pre-Greek (Platonic) cultures, in that a Post-Modern state of being doesn’t rely on post-Platonic Western categorization and separation of realities. Olson argues that this categorization and separation (which he traces back to Plato's emphasis on ideal forms and separation of mythos and logos with logos now being the truth and mythos now being a kind of fiction) becomes a cause of a certain anxiety: in Olson’s paraphrase of Herodotus, in Western culture people tend to be most estranged from that with which they are most familiar. Warburg’s lecture doesn’t fit neatly into the above sentiments, but it is very striking how it anticipates the above, and how ably Aby demonstrates his methods.
Warburg’s lecture is fairly straightforward, though rich in detail. In it, he traces the means by which Greek gods (and more importantly the classical notions their forms embody) were passed along culture to culture and generation by generation through their incorporation into the discourse network of astrology, and how these Greek forms were transmitted to and translated by various non-Greek cultures that came into contact with each other. Specifically, Warburg finds the correlations between the seemingly “oriental” imagery of various frescoes and traditional Greek imagery. I’m not going to dwell too much on the details of Warburg’s “resolution of a pictorial riddle” (252) for as he says his focus is more upon “a methodical expansion of our art-historical discipline, in both its material and its spatial reaches” (252). Or even more succinctly, “I was less interested in the neat solution than in the formulation of a new problem” (252).
Before getting too into this methodical expansion, I want to remark on a unique aspect in Warburg’s lecture: how certain elements express perhaps Platonic notions even while his methods seem to propose methods by which to counter those same notions (or perhaps I’m just overplaying my anti-Platonic sympathies). For instance, Warburg opens his lecture by referring to the “Roman world of forms” (234), grounding us in familiar terminology. Additionally, Warburg’s strong repulsion to popular astrology (“in essence nothing more than a name fetishism projected on the future” 238) could seem to communicate a strong preference for a more clearly rational notion of divine agency; we can see this clearly in Warburg’s delineation between a more acceptable astrology that relies on the visibility of the stars and their positions relative to one another, and a later version where “real observation declined and was replaced by a primitive cult of star names” (238). I don’t want to argue with Warburg here or take him to task, but merely point out the way his (translated) language (“real observation declined”) often displays the foundations and criteria for his judgments by establishing clear a antinomy between “real” and “unreal” methods of gaining data; he also implies a hierarchy of forms in his assertion that observation “declined” instead of “transformed” or “adapted.” One could argue that Warburg’s reliance on such distinctions also implies a system of forms by which one makes distinctions between a “real culture” and an “unreal” or “barbaric” one (at certain spots he speaks of “genuine oriental imagination”  and of a portrayal of a Venus that “has nothing Greek about her outward appearance” ), but that argument would serve mostly to shift us away from the very useful elements of Warburg’s lecture.
In fact, it is likely that Warburg’s critique of uses of astrology has more to do with a separation between how the images are used and the psychological motivations for creating the images in the first place (which could be one motivation for a trip by him to America to observe Pueblo Indians create their own religious imagery; this would contrast strongly to an astrology follower projecting notions of his or her future by the non-empirical correlations found in astrological imagery). The methods he outlines and demonstrates in his lecture are a means to investigating the grounds and motivations of imagery and thereby providing much firmer ground for understanding the images in their contexts and for understanding how those contexts change.
Warburg utilizes a terrific array of resources for his claims, and thereby demonstrates the reach of his methods: a partial list of his investigations would include Flemish tapestries in 15th century secular art, “illustrated handbook(s) of mythology” in northern medieval culture, 12th century southern German art (235), medieval calendars and frescoes (236), the paintings of Botticelli (237), the evolution of astrological imagery (238), astrological texts and images used in Asia Minor, including one edited by a German scholar and written by an Italian contemporary of Dante, writings of the 9th century astrologer Abū Mā’sār (translated into Hebrew by a Spaniard and into French under the patronage of a Englishmen) (239), and so forth. An almost punchline sentence in this regard can be found on page 240: “In Spanish illustrated manuscripts, Greek authors revived, from their Arabic translations, authors who were to make the hermetic-healing or oracular astrology of Alexandria a fatal part of Europe’s cultural patrimony.” I think it’s important to see Warburg’s methods not just as the performance of an erudite scholar but more as a means for both demystifying the occurrence of certain images or tendencies across cultures and centuries, and for also a way to free art from being studied as a series of isolated products of individual and transcendent geniuses.
I think interesting questions can be raised by considering how notions of genius (for Warburg affirms that it exists at the end of his lecture) or even talent can alter within a methodology, especially one that places so much emphasis on the economic, cultural and religious currents in which the artist and artwork circulate. There is certainly room for an artist to be a genius of transformation for Warburg, but how would he account for a completely original or transcendent genius? I don’t think such a creature would exist for Warburg, that he would instead locate artistic talent or genius not in the creation but in the transformation, transmission or translation of images and/or forms. It would also be interesting to follow Warburg further to see whether the subversion of imagery is emphasized in his view as he seems to imply a perpetual transition, misappropriation and revision of expressive and imagistic norms as opposed to a static maintenance of them.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
A quote from McCaffery/Nichol that helps frame a discussion of whether Fascicle is "too big":
"There seems at present a dichotomy in attitude between the book as a machine of reference and the book as a commodity to be acquired, consumed and discarded."
I could probably pretty accurately lip synch a similar sentence about my attitude towards Fascicle. I know it's too big to be gotten at in one sitting, or probably even a couple, and after a dip or two it's not interesting to you, there's plenty of places I'm sure to get whatever it is one is looking for when one cracks up a journal or clicks to a site.
Is it common knowledge how much of a badass Steve McCaffery is? He is. There's a piece of his that ends his Theory of Sediment book that made me angry and thrilled it was so brilliant; I don't have the book near me, and I forget the title . . . it basically is like a twenty page sentence that moves from recently coined words decade by decade back through the language.
Monday, October 10, 2005
Saturday night was a blast at Ken Rumble's Desert City Reading Series, with excellent readings by Tessa Joseph and Brent Cunningham, and a mesmerizing performance at the Blue Door after party by one Ted Pope, who performed a poetry/music mix that seemed to combine elements of Beat, Frank Stanford, Tom Waits and the Violent Femmes maybe. Closed with a song with maybe the most brilliant lyrics ever:
When Pontius PilateStrange literary dreams last night: a TV interview with Ann Charters poo-poohing Robert Creeley (dream Tony was enraged), and reading a gloss by Clayton Eshleman on Hart Crane (which actually exists, though differently than the dream version).
washed the blood off his hands
he shook his hips
he shook his hips
Saturday, October 08, 2005
About halfway through it -- Jim Dine portfolio, poems by Fanny Howe, Ann Lauterbach, Sarah Manguso, Clayton Eshleman among others. Nada Gordon definitely steals the show so far with "Nothing Is Untitled" -- one of my favorite poems I've read this year, without a doubt. Worth the price of admission.
Found myself exceedingly annoyed with Carter Ratcliff's "The Anaxagoras Variations: a Note on Theory," which presents some bizarre caricature of theory and then places that caricature over flames. Opening: "In theory, there is theory and practice. In practice, there is only practice." So right off I found myself bugged, because that seems so inaccurate, at least for me -- theory comes before and after practice for me, to see what I did, what it is I'm actually doing -- I suppose one wouldn't need theory if you didn't want to alter what you're doing . .
More from Ratcliff: "[Theorists] don't merge with Mind so much as infiltrate it, the better to reveal its oppressive workings. Yet they resemble their predecessors -- everyone from Anaxagoras and Plato to Descartes and Kant -- in wanting us to see themselves as masters of transcendence. The role of those who are not theorists is to be thankful for the revelations of theory. Theorists want to help us. Chiefly, they want to revlieve the itchy need to find a way out of their own skins."
It's not the anti-theory sentiment of Ratcliff that bugs me, because I'm not too much of a theory hound, or haven't been -- this last year has been my first time to begin reading people like Barthes, Derrida, Benjamin, Jameson and such. The thing that bugs me about Ratcliff's piece is the armchair psycho-analyzing, as though an affinity for theory can be best explained by fundamental psychological or moral flaws of those involved. This is rarely (if ever) convincing when addressing differences of aesthetics, whether you're talking about SoQ, Charles Bernstein, Kent Johnson, New Sincerity or Joan Houlihan. Reducing a person's aesthetic preferences to some sort of moral or psychological lack strikes me as intellectually lazy, the sort of thing I myself do when wanting to dismiss someone's stance without addressing anything fundamental. So I'm not going to "theorize" on what Ratcliff's motivations were for writing the piece, or what his private psychological needs are and how his piece is a simple explication of those needs, etc. Just let me say I don't find his stance either convincing or useful in the least.
The prose piece that precedes it in Vanitas, Jordan Davis' "Peeling Oranges on Top of the Skyscrapers: Towards a Name-Blind History of Poetry since 1960" I certainly wouldn't level with the same charges as I do Ratcliff's, but by the time I finished Jordan's piece, a charming geneology of the various NY Schools that mostly avoids using the names of any of the poets, I was left wondering: who is this piece written for? I'm not sure it's especially informative for those who don't know the histories described, it does point to recent books on the subject, but the piece itself's absence of names left me feeling out-of-the-loop, and I more or less cut my poetry teeth on at least the first two generations of NY School. And it didn't seem to make an argument, or too strong of a case for something other than the need for a better book on the NY Schools. It seemed mostly a performance piece type of essay, and I'm a fan of the genre: but: so: the no-names conceit is the central aspect, but as a performance it seems like it would appeal mostly to a pretty select audience, one that would already agree to a statement like "the Black Mountain poets did not consistently address their poems to someone other than themselves" (a point which Jordan to his credit expects to be corrected on). I don't have the energy right now to undertake that sort of correction, but I did try to think of Black Mtn. examples that would create that view, poets who don't seem to address problems of address -- the start of Maximus seems to pivot on these concerns, and it seems pretty central to my understanding of Creeley, etc. I'm sure I'm as 'tone-deaf' with this piece as Mayhew says I am with Personism, but I don't know what the point of reading something is if not to at some point take it seriously; I get that the tone may be tongue-in-cheek, but I just figure that's to help the medicine go down, even if the medicine is "throw away your medicine." I'm tired of Mineola Prep.
I think a really interesting piece could be constructed that could demonstrate what specific NY School/Black Mtn/Beat poets share in common, so to counter some of the rote camp vs. camp thinking while still addressing fundamental differences, and without reducing fundamental differences in approach to just things like personality.
Anyway, just kind of struck that stances of the opening prose pieces of Vanitas seemed, in their own way, to pursue familiar lines of thinking, while the poems themselves are of various registers, and almost all so far interesting (besides Nada Gordon's effing killer poem, I also really dug Fanny Howe's so far) -- anyway, I can't imagine Ratcliff's piece doing anything than further cementing anyone's views on his topic. Jordan's piece is more complicated; the source of a lot of its charm (the absence of names) also seems to mark it off as a space perhaps for the already initiated. Anyway, it's still a good read.
But man that Ratcliff piece bugs me. The gem that ends the piece: "It is better -- because truer -- to say that pretensions to theory impose a handicap that prevents all but a very few theorists from coming to grips with anything but their own need to speak from on high."
Perhaps some look to theory not from "their own need to speak from on high" but perhaps to excise the repose from their practice.
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Monday, October 03, 2005
Every medium has within it the capacity of an ideal mediality.
(Schiller's starting point, via Hegel: "every individual human being has within him the capacity of an ideal humanity")
Sunday, October 02, 2005
Last week Amy King asked the Lucipo listserv to send her short poems that were well-loved. She posted the results here.
My selections were from Rosmarie Waldrop, Robert Creeley, Ronald Johnson and Jerome Rothenberg's Technicians of the Sacred anthology.
Been re-reading Creeley's For Love with a sense of astonishment that was never there before. Tempted to proclaim it the besterest American poetry collection of the last century, but I've got stuff in my beard to clean out.
Other list poems? Ones you find affecting?
It's hard for me to imagine one being too affecting outside of a context, because if emotions are to be evoked, I do believe it takes more than a series of objects to be presented to the imagination and other perceptive faculties -- there is the objects, the poem/poet/speaker's relation to the objects, the relation of that relation to us, etc. So in a larger written context a list could be stunning, but by itself? Of course, there's the question if poems are ever just by themselves. I'd say yeah, if just not to sound too much like a hippie and say they never are.
Reading Hegel, and the issues of what is brought to sense in a work of art -- certainly I'd say not just the objects described, or just the medium/material of description, nor just signifiers. My Flarf essay in Fascicle that Thomas is pushing me to rethink/clarify addresses some of these things -- about whether or not the "original" situations that generated the language that ends up in a Flarf poem affects a reader's appraisal of that poem. Thomas is convincing in arguing that they don't, that Flarf in fact is effective in taking language out from its original situation and putting it in a poem anew with no dependence on original intent or situation. I wonder if my view is not something close to a sophomore's view of the Heisenberg principle (the sophomore's view being all I have) of the act of watching a phenomenon alters it -- I mean just the fact of knowing or imagining the Google processes of Flarf conjures up the possible situations for the language at hand.
A consistent emphasis in the medieval Christian texts I've been reading is the necessity for an affective reading and theology -- in Meditations on the Life of Christ, the reader is incessantly instructed to place herself in the scenes described, to help Mary swaddle the infant Christ, to look upon Christ's face as he hides from an angry mob, etc. It's a strategy that's pretty common I think -- I wonder if I could go back in time to see at what point I stopped imagining myself as the characters in works of art and started imagining myself as the creator. It makes for a curious dramatic reception, for instance me driving around listening to "The River," imagining myself performing the song as though I had written it and as though it could possibly also be about me too -- again, makes for a strange theatrical distance between myself and the song, or at least between myself and Bruce, but it still results in an emotional reaction, a quite strong one: singing along or through a song such as "The River" produces a stronger emotional response in me than say I ever had performing songs I'd written when I was in a band, and some of those songs were fairly emotional/personal. Part of it is just the quality of songwriting in something like "The River" compared to your typical Black Cassette song, but I think there's something in the theatrical distance that maybe allows the emotions to be accessed in a new way: I mean, I get weepy imagining singing lyrics that don't really reflect anything about my life right now, but I only get weepy when imagining performing the song.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
What probably interested me most were two things, one being Sterne's term "mediality," which refers to interactions and communications through media -- he prefers the term because it (instead of a term like "mediation") doesn't have such a presupposition of an almost Edenic notion of face-to-face interaction being the only basis of 'real' interaction. You know, more of a sense of media being a vital aspect of human interaction as opposed to being the means of a diminished reality of interaction; his idea seems to be that almost every human media from writing to painting to radio doesn't necessarily privilege face-to-face interaction to such a degree as critiques or discussions of those media do, which will criticize say a work of writing not so much as a work of writing created as such, but instead will criticize it as not living up to some possibly unrealistic ideal of direct face-to-face communication between corporeal entities and will regard diversions from that face-to-face ideal not as positive evidence of aspects unique to the writing as a unique medium but as evidence of its failure.
I still feel much less like an academic than a poet going undercover into academia to dig this stuff out -- that's part of my reason for putting things up here on the blog from my classes, you know, a sort of bootlegging. I'm also trying to impress you a little. But anyway, his discussion of mediality crystallized a bit for me some things swirling around my head in terms of how poetry is discussed, criticized, etc. My beef with something like, say, New Sincerity, or at least with my strawman idea of it (it's not like I'm doing research into what Tony, Joe, etc are/were getting at), has always been a feeling that discussion of something like sincerity in the way I'm taking they're meaning (sincerity in the communication of emotions from a poet to a reader) situates itself in a circle of assumptions that I don't really share -- that's what makes it difficult to talk constructively about differences I may have, because it could be taken as privileging something like theory or intellect over emotion. I like emotion in poetry too, but I just don't think emotions necessarily occur in poems in the same way that they do in face-to-face talking; many of the poems I find particularly moving (like Ronald Johnson or Gertrude Stein's) don't evoke emotion in me in any way that resembles an un-mediated manner.
I think to that notion of mediality -- I don't think I'm particularly interested in regarding poems as though they were the same thing as face-to-face, or even a Personism-ish telephone-to-telephone, occurrence. It seems like this is a Houlihan type of trick: take a piece of writing, and then ask "Do people you know talk like this?" Well, no, people I know do write like this. Though they share many, many similarities, interpersonal vocal communication and writing don't exist in the same way or with the same assumptions or materials, and I don't think are usually approached in the same way when created or received (though for some reason we often pretend to approach a poem as though it were a talking human and not something written down on paper/in cyberspace/on the pin of a needle).
Fairly obvious the above, but that obviousness seems to be skimmed over sometimes. Carl Martin posted something very interesting (for me) a few weeks ago on the Lucipo listserv, when there was discussion of whether poets were trying to communicate with an audience or not, and Carl's remarks were that while he was aware of audience and wanted an audience/reader to feel welcome, that the focus of his communication was with poetry itself as an art form. This I think is closer to my orientation not just as writer but reader of things. Hopefully also this informs discussions I might have about a poem, or the expectations I have of a poem; I don't think they should be interchangeable with expectations I would have with a person (I'm not speaking of my New Sincerity beef here, or saying this is what they might do; I'm just talking about the tendency to critique artifacts under some sort of face-to-face interpersonal umbrella). Certainly poems can express funny, sincere, sad emotions in a similar manner I guess as a person, or at least provoke similar reactions in a reader that a person does (laughter, joy, sorrow, comfort), but it's inaccurate I think to assert or assume that that is the only, or major, realm in which poems exist: as simulations of face-to-face interactions. I mean, there's a lot of people out there, more than ever. Lots of opporunities for funny/sincere/sexy/etc. interactions. (This is pretty counter I think to some of my assumptions even several years ago--probably has a large part to do with not feeling alone in the world anymore . . .)
The second aspect of Sterne's articles that I found particularly interesting was the notion that when all these new sound media were introduced to the public, the content carried within them initially, in the demonstration stage, was uniformly familiar and/or cliched -- Mary had a little lamb, to be or not to be, etc. Sterne's states that the reason for this is simple: the people demonstrating the new media needed to demonstrate that the media worked, and it was easier to do this if the content presented was familiar, if the audience in fact knew it beforehand and then just simply had to recognize what was familiar.
In this way people were helping out the machines, and also in this way the message wasn't that Mary once had a little lamb (since the audience already knew that) but just simply that the medium was functional. Instead of The Medium Is the Message, it was more like 'The Medium Can Work' Is the Message. Earlier this semester we saw examples of machinema (machine + cinema), which are films made from computer game modules: apparently people go in an manipulate the databases of images and sounds in a computer game to make films. The examples we saw I think were equivalents to Mary Had a Little Lamb -- a short film illustrating Shelley's Ozymandias, a Blade Runner sci noir knockoff, etc. The point of the films weren't exactly the films or their characters or plots, but just that the medium could work. Which I guess fits into I think McLuhan's idea that every time new media are introduced, they contain old media: films start off looking like plays, etc.
I'm plenty interested in how the Internet and poetry are co-existing -- my essay that got me into the Ph.D. program was on how Flarf re-imagines the social interaction between the poet, poem and reader (a revised, shortened version of that essay is in the first issue of Fascicle). Almost two years ago I wrote a series of letters to Typo (check it out here) about how the Internet was a chance to re-imagine how to edit and function in the poetry biz. These are still pretty much the two ways in which I think the Internet is altering the poetry world -- well, and blogs. I think we're in the middle of a paradigm shift in poetry that won't be evident for maybe 15 years, because most of us now spouting off on poetry blogs and with books and magazines came of age when poetry was almost exclusively a print culture, controlled by big and small presses, and mostly through universities (at least for a rural cat like me). So we've adjusted to the new landscape, are now creating it, but didn't get our fundamental notion of the 'lay of the land' in anything resembling the way undergrads just now coming to poetry are. I think this possible 'new way' is good, if only because the online world is still pretty de-centralized. (Even blogs, which get pigeon-holed as narcissistic monologues, can be decentralized: you have me spouting this off, but half the time the comments to anything of substance I might say are more interesting and gets followed more closely than what I write: plus if people think I'm full of it, they'll say so in the comments or on their blogs.)
And it seems clear the online poetry world swings very heavily towards the post-avant. You know, Mark Strand, Louise Gluck, Robert Hass, Tony Hoagland: these people don't have blogs, don't edit online magazines, don't really publish online. Ron Silliman, Nick Piombino, Barrett Watten, Juliana Spahr, Lisa Jarnot: these people do.
The fact that a majority of the online journals, blogs and sites lean 'post avant' might seem just like a possibly curious fact to some of us, but I think this fact will actually enact a fundamental shift when those who are now just coming to poetry (at least those doing it partly or mostly online) become more established and start throwing their weight around in terms who they read, publish, teach, etc. Will that be better for poetry? Who knows. I think it will be interesting, and I think it will happen. Poetry can get all the money it wants and it won't have a third of the impact as a good online journal. Who cares about who David Lehman asks to edit the Best American Poetry, or who that person picks? If I was coming into poetry, what would have more of an impact: who gets put in a random thing like BAP, or who gets discussed passionately by someone like Kasey Mohammad or Laura Carter? Print probably has more prestige still than online, even for journals: it probably always will because it will always have the feeling of money and institutional power behind it.
But I think there's the possibility that the trade-off for that prestige is a lack of impact and influence at the fundamental level of how the next generation of readers and writers view the poetry world. I probably sound a little evangelical on this, but it just seems so clear to me. That's why it is so vital I think to think about my assumptions in editing Fascicle -- I don't want to blow the opportunity to possibly shape future writers' views the way that Jacket shaped mine when I was drowning in MFAland (or to be more exact and less presumptuous: I don't want to blow the opportunity to contribute to a view of poetry that will possibly shape future writers' views the way Jacket and EPC shaped mine). Which is why I wanted to address the 'boy's club' issue because that's the last thing I want to do, create some kind of 'insiders' atmosphere. With Fascicle I wanted to shift my attention into spheres (the local and global, and historical) that it seems a lot of print and/or institutionally-based journals and presses ignore -- to critique in some way the assumption that a person in say Chapel Hill's view of poetry is dominated by what's going on from a 'contemporary American' point of view, as opposed to a global and/or local and/or historical one. I was so obsessed with this that gender didn't even enter into my brain -- happily, it looks like issue two will have much less of a sausage party feel.
Anyway, so in that one way, I think it is interesting to think about whether online journals are trying to say 'hey, the medium works' and recreate familiar formats, or are they trying to explore how the new medium can alter editing and publishing techniques -- I need to acknowledge that No Tell Motel and Unpleasant Event Schedule are doing the latter in an interesting way -- I think I was so 'nose-to-nose' so to speak to my Fascicle obsessions that I was viewing (read: measuring) all journals through my ideas and not just looking at them for what they were.
I'm getting tired, but imagine I also wrote a couple of paragraphs on why Flarf is interesting to me because: Andre Leroi-Gourhan argues that technics are externalization of internal processes, Bernard Stiegler revises him to say that the technical (external) and internal co-evolve, and that I think Flarf is one of the first instances I see of this possibility in the poetry world because Google-sculpting is not only a unique process (that while similar to earlier artistic processes, there is no real exact equivalent that I can think of) that is unique to the new medium, but: the act of Google-sculpting will likely become well known at least in the poetry world, and then will become a possible map or model for the writing process in general, or for the psyche/imagination/etc. in general, and will therefore cause unforeseen changes in the writing process/poetic psyche/imagination etc. in general.
Who knows, could happen.
Also imagine that I threw in a paragraph how this isn't technological determinism, but rather some kind of co-instrumentality between the technos and logos.
I can't believe I just wrote that above sentence. I blame Blogger.
Happy holy week this week because I'm in possession of the first six issues of Eugene Jolas' transition journals from the 1920s-30s for ten days. transition is probably best known for publishing much of Finnegans Wake (as Work in Progress) issue to issue, and also for its consistent patronage for Gertrude Stein, as well as many other ex-patriate writers, plus tons of translations, poetry from HD, WCW, Zuk and so on, paintings by Miro, Picasso.
Great to begin digging in. Favorites so far include a bunch of Laura Riding poems, and a longish prose piece by Breton. No Abraham Lincoln Gillespie yet, I guess he doesn't show up until later issues (Duke's library I think has the entire run).
Have also been checking out Eugene Jolas' first book, I Have Seen Demons and Angels. Brilliant, filled with neologisms and tri-lingual pieces, automatic writings, wild mystical stuff . . . they've also got Harry Crosby's books in the rare books library, so that's next on my list. Rumor is they also have Kathy Acker's papers . . .
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
A sampling of genius:
Wasted at the Beach with Pets
By John Mark Boling
Pick up the new issue of New American Painting (the Southern issue) to check out paintings by Lloyd Benjamin, who has played in some of my favorite bands, including The Stranger Steals, Affection and The Looks.
Working on a piece called "The Medium / The Mattress." Feeling like a rock star with my headphones and bottle of wine, stuck in Juarez. In the rain. And it's Easter time, too.
Friday, September 23, 2005
The big highlight in this issue is Jan Baetens and Michael Kasper's translation of Louis Scutenaire's "My Accounts."
Also, for those of you keeping track at home, Eugene Jolas and Abraham Lincoln Gillespie have officially entered my pantheon of personal favorites, where they get to roam the halls with Ronald Johnson, Lorine Niedecker, Hannah Wiener, Allen Grossman, Frank Stanford and Frank Samperi, among others.