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.