Saturday, April 29, 2006





Since I'm skating by blogging-wise by just posting notes from different occasions, here's my notes from the last class of the lecture course with Jameson on Sartre

Either Sartre is rendered historical by postmodernism, or S is its precursor: J is telling a story of intellectual history (can’t prove it): a choice prior to the interpretation itself: the story is so often told as discontinuity, that a continuous story is not uninteresting: S has been pushed out of sight by p-struc: occluded: but Lacan was formed by S: his notion of the look, symbolic, etc comes out of S: Levi-Strauss not so much: but even Deleuze was a passionate Sartrean

Butler at least is willing to talk about S: she acknowledges that S shouldn’t be mentioned in feminist discourse: students won’t read him: but S's mentions of sexuality was an anti-boug act

S inscribes sexuality into a French boug system

Structuralism tells us binary systems are the source of ideology: no reader of Deleuze can keep from finding binary systems: in S, activity during passivity (m vs f): in S, everything is activity, and passivity is bad faith: for the critique to work, feminists would have to claim the role of passive: if you get rid of the binary, then what ethically comes after it:

Next objection: of Humanism: S considers the human subject is the center: his basic values are on unity, identity rather than difference: in S, the emphasis is not on unity but unification: S’s first publication, the Transcendence of the Ego, is ground for split-subject: the ego is the ground for consciousness: consciousness is a not-something: it does not presuppose an organic unity of humans:

In Althusser: S’s expressive totality: every part of life is reflected in other parts: gestures reflect thoughts: Althusser wants to separate and distance those levels: pertinent, but it keeps us from seeing S’s project: in Deleuze, the original human subject disappears, but each level/act is intelligible/intentional: J thinks S’s unification is a bit old fashioned:

S does not have a structuralist view of language, but an expressionist: J thinks this is true: what is substituted in the new views: the structural linguistics: linguistic determination: finally, continues in view of performativity: how much does this add?

Performativity comes out of Austin’s How to Do Things With Words: understood the basic problem that certain words in certain contexts can do things: legal uses of language: linguists can’t handle semantics: locked into the sentence:

S never went thru the structural revolution: you will see S reply to Levi-Strauss in his critique of him: S’s critique is taken up in Outline of a Theory of Practice by Bourdieu: if Structuralism begins in late 50s, and Existentialism ends, the hegemony of Structuralism ends in 71 w/ Bourdieu

J: post-struc anticipated by S: the notion of exclusion: self and other: exclusion and normativity: the righteous set up a situation where they are self, and identify others as marginal: a normative situation: Foucault adopts this, applies to the clinic, prison, etc: what’s not so strong in S is the post-structural wrinkle: from Bataille and Lacan: the premise, a model of time (Freud), the law creates the transgression itself: there’s no transgression until there’s a law: the law brings it into being: a domain is set up where the law is preceded: derived from Derrida’s Of Grammatology: it is the law that creates the crime: the law is the repression (in Genet): the great Althussarian notion of interpolation, telling Genet he’s a thief creates the context for his identity (built around thief-ness)

Gender is constructed from Gender Trouble: the idea that all gender is related to a performative approach: changes what counts as subversion (drag): at the early moments of queer theory: iterability (Derridean word): simply means the speech act, like the creation of the world, can’t be done all at once: must be repeated: don’t just create the machine and walk off: but God has to keep the world in being at every moment: iterability: not performed just once: J thinks this has to do w/ authority: not anyone can declare husband & wife: the state must have an authority/hegemony: racist/sexist is performativity
S on Jewish: what is the Jew: can’t be from the inside (like the thief) but from the outside, and can be defined: a Jew is who others consider to be a Jew: it is real that others consider you Jewish:

S’s waiter: performativity: playing at being a waiter: in S, you aren’t anything, but you have to play at being:

Butler a German student of philos: strong critique of Lacan:

masculine/feminine masquerade: machismo:

a philosophical problem: the problem of freedom: we choose everything, but aren’t there things you don’t choose: you choose to be a waiter, but there are other things that you are that you don’t choose: freedom is a relationship to contingency: what about the body: is there something prior in the body?: she can’t allow that philosophically: Butler tries to solve this in Bodies that Matter, her most philosophical book: must argue what is matter: an enormous mass of critiques of the concept of matter: a non-concept for Hegel: materialism always takes matter for granted: but what is meant by that:

S: the assumption of facticity: Heisenberg: radical uncertainty: in S, this is similar to facticity: you can’t confront directly cuz you are there: can never reach facticity objectively: always filtered thru an ideological pattern:

Philosophical precedent: the noumenon: the thing itself: Kant: we are thinking about reality, and about how we measure reality: we’ll call that the phenomenon (how things appear) but we can’t assume we have any access of how things really are (outside world, self, soul, God): the inaccessible is the thing itself: phenomena are the basis of scientific knowledge, but are not reality

Butler argues against the notion, even in Foucault, that there’s something before these things: anticipation produces the object: you may think you’re starting out with a physical fact which creates the norm, but the norm creates the physical fact: even Foucault will be critiqued here: this is also related to a certain utopian politics: behind the repression of various gender categories there is some original physical, sexual self to liberate:

Wittig: represents a post-queer utopia: not a feminist utopia, Women Warriors: a single gendered, active, dynamic society that has overthrown gender discrimination by breaking from it: she goes beyond separatism (all separatism has a utopian bent): for Butler, this is based on an original gender:

Foucault’s original history of sexuality:

Playacting: iterability: imitation (something precedes), a kind of mimesis: imitation is not the imitation of preexisting, but creates the preexisting thing: derived from VS Naipaul’s the Mimic-Men, the colonial subjects is imitating the colonizer: Indian imitating: there is no colonized behavior: the negative performative: Bhabha has theorized this:

Important for Butler to insist that nothing is before this: similar to simulacra: creates illusion of the original:

Butler’s fundamental emphasis: attacking the notion of the normative: already there in S in St. Genet: touches on this in question of blackness to in Black Orpheus: S’s fundamental stance is anti-colonial:

Notion of gender locating in melancholy: Freud’s essay on mourning & melancholia: all gender is melancholy means separation and exclusion of all other sexualities: S theory of activity is not reconciliable w/ melancholy:

Possibly, activity vs melancholy:

One of the fundamental political concerns is the problem of universality: Habermasians say: is there a universal system of human rights that can be applied: US as the great defender of universality:

Problem of sexual norm becomes the universal norm: S: there is no essence, there is no norm: existence precedes essence

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Semi-incoherent notes from Alfred North Whitehead conference on Monday. To be revised/revisited soon.


Tim Lenoir (ISIS prof at Duke, w/ whom I took a Critical Studies in New Media course last semester)

Interested in theories of consciousness, quantum mechanics & consciousness, organicism, process theory; Deleuze and Bergson, Merleau-Ponty and others: thru them, rediscovered AN Whitehead

Steven Meyer is the other organizer of event, at Washington University; author of Irresisitible Dictation (Stein book); current projects: rhythms of thought (20th century poetry).

Paper presented by:

Sha Xin Wei: trained in math at Harvard, Ph.D. in math & science from Stanford; math modeling, geometric structure: chair of media arts at Concordia University: also, founder of topological media lab: work on gesture, compositional fabrics: co-editor of AI and Society; paper: “Whitehead’s Poetical Mathematics”


Arkady Plotnitsky at Purdue: former Lit prof at Duke, degree in math from Leningrad, English Ph.D. at Upenn; Mathematics, Scienes & Post-Classical Theory

Henry Stapp; physicist & quantum mechanics; Mind, Matter & Quantum Mechanics; Berkeley

Purpose of the conference: encourage Whitehead studies, but also to do so collaboratively: access to universal access grid;

Meyer on previous views on Whitehead:

Stressed the need to make one feel transformed in order for cognition: if it is to be gotten it will then be felt: motivation of conference to determine if there’s something to be gotten today; x factor is going to be just one thing

What can Whitehead do for me: efficacy of W’s spec abstractions: allure perplexed questions about scientific thought: the cry of Whiteheadean soul: we require to understand what it takes to resist reduction of self: an explainable functioning: design abstractions that would be applied to empiracle hugeness: nature & experience: to defend extravagant diversity (against limiting specificity)

New sort of Whiteheadean god: finite, a being whose nature contains traces of all that has perished: this god grants same immortality: the great companion, fellow sufferer who understands: “the fellow sufferer who understands” cry of Whiteheadean soul: this we are required to understand

Harraway: what appeals is understanding w/o explaining away, while being committed to reasons: reasons that enable formation of society: commits what is perceived to wandering: extraction of what may matter: what would’ve happened if: looking not reducible to sight: Harraway is suspicious of human centeredness: animals created also on 6th day: W’s abstraction provide terms that work as lure for feelings about things that matter & how they matter

Two models for philosophy: math & poetry: W focuses equally on both:

Sha Xin Wei:

Puzzlement at W’s atomism: frictional reading of Process & Reality: W responds to most compelling math theories: a notion of process that doesn’t appeal to atomism

Came to Whitehead after Deleuze’s multiplicity: a speculative reading:

W begins w/ ontological principle: all comes from somewhere: start w/ concrete: nature is entangled totality: continuity concerns what is potential: production of novel togetherness: a temporal theory of process: past, present & future: causal pasts & futures: all else is a-causal compliment

A notion of time that is atomic: any atomistic structure leads to hierarchies: how to account for change, novelty & creativity: actual entities synonymous w/ actual occasions: occasion gives temporality also cognition

Einstein’s equivalence b/w curvature tensor and stress-energy tensor (?)

W identifies duration w/ strain: duration a strain of occasions: Aristotle: introduces mysteries: W gives no reason why equivalence is attained: general relativity?

Intertwine matter & momentum w/ geometry

Integral w/ impulse density:

Philosophical adequacy of appealing . . . .

Comprehend intuition behind kinetics away from a field


W needs his measure to be unchanging to feed into his apparatus

Intersection of ovals is not an oval

Going for convexity: difficulty ensues

W is weakened by insistence on Euclidean geometry: so general, there is no call for measurement

Fundamental sequentality when thinking about limits: relies on sequential compactness: fixation w/ counting & countability: construction of abstract sets is mined w/ confusions:

Lattice theory: deal w/ sets w/o points:

Rigorous but not rigid way of describing extended sets w/ starting w/ atomic points

Speculation & improvisation needs a trellis, not a carapace

Creativity by which the many becomes one occasion: a novel unity

W: all things flow (Heraclitus) is now: all things are vectors

In Deleuze, not the Subject but the world that articulates

Heraclitus: the earth melts to sea, vice versa: field based process: articulates richness

The monstrous exists in the field between the possible and real

An unbounded . . .



Significance of W: work on Shelley & science: "earth spins beneath the pyramid of night":

Philosophy is a confrontation b/w friends: philosophy needs math: an ambition to be like a form of math: Badiou is defined by this ambition: all beginnings obscure: the origin of things lie in greater depths than one can discern

Conversion of knowledge to chaos

Chaos as enemy & friend of thought: thought’s ally in fight against opinion: struggle

Chaos not by its disorder, but the speed by which things in its totality vanishes & reappears w/o consequence

Art approaches chaos at its speed

Philosophy: creation of concepts, are concepts that are always new

Math & Science freeze chaos

Trinity: is three folded into one: manifold

Conceptual world of math is so far from intuition that it is often considered to be absurd: math concept of continuity is ultimately algebraic, not geometric: we think geometry, write algebra

Phenomenal intuition of space may remain Euclidean, which Kant et al suspected: is he saying Einstein also does this: regardless, Xing critiques W for this:

How much mileage does philosophy get from math: W’s atomism might be a problem for relativity: but for his philosophy: continuity is not necessary for our conception of consciousness

Discreteness needs to be made a part of understanding of consciousness

Math might’ve been born out of need to define presumptions of everyday accounts

Badiou can’t bring rigorous ontology to a mathematics (similar for W)

Math & philosophy contribute to each other’s architecture:

Stapp response:

As a physicist, focus on fruitfulness on W’s views on physics: get away from atomistic & towards continuum (Xing)

Defends W’s atomism on basis of its concordance w/ and utility for cont basical physical theory

Continuity concerns what is potential whereas actuality is incurably atomic

Built out of atomic (indivisible) actual entities

Drops of experience: Wm James’ drops of perception: acquaintance w/ reality grows by buds or drops of perception, as immediately given: totally, or not at all

Continuum is merely potentiality for division

World is divided & atomic: one coherent system of real divisions: every entity is somewhere on the continuum

Presumption of every entity as an act of experience:

Actuality is decision amid potentiality: actual entities are the only reasons

Newton/Classical: continuous process
[contrased to]
Quantum: discrete: a yes or a no

Quantum theory has causal gaps and discrete decisions: experimenters probe nature, nature makes its choice:

Each discrete decision is associate with a particular region in space

Drop of experience: active consciousness, passive physical word

Heisenberg: out of all possible events [a set], the observer chooses only the one that actually appears before her/him: knowledge is changed discontinuously: transition of possible to actual goes on during observation

Newton’s receiver space & time: exists even if nothing is in it, vs Leibniz

How are free choices made: Quantum doesn’t help: W gives a model: decision creates potentiality for future: in accord w/ intuition

W useful if physicist wants an ontology

Leibniz’s relational view: space-time pertains to relations among existing things: empty space is nonsensical

W is creating space out of events: not there til it happens:

The world's process consists of a sequence of psychophysical events, each is associated w/ a standpoint, a space-time region

Prior events atomize the s-t region prior to the space-like surface of Now, and combine to create potentialities for future events

Decision based on physical and psychological inputs: (psych coming from the content of events that atomize the sp-time region prior to physical input)

W adopts an awkward topological method to solve his straight-line problem

It fails cuz it provides no unique solution

The key concept is ovate sets, which are supposed to be like sets of ovals: but, their properties are like those of sets of convex sets (no idea) and that comes close to begging the question:

It takes an enormous amount of computing to move the continuum beyond present?

W’s ideas are topological not metrical: thinks he needs straight lines:

Most difficult parts are extensive continuum: convex sets are built on a straight line:

Reginald Cato: building a theory on W principles: basic claims: starts w/ Whiteheadean ideas, concludes that he can embed these graphs in 3d space (w/ defects: identified as matter): the rest is space:

Sha Xin Wei: think about W not about correctness
Dancing: paying attention less to steps than to breath

Presentational entity in its entirety, gesture:

My question: does gesture only work among totalities?

Founding a math on logic compared to founding it on set theory

Me: Difference in founding poetry on rationality or sight than to found it on impossibility (rotate terms).

Approaching the world modestly

Of Gramm: Derrida sees math science as a limit case: did not represent spoken speech:

Certainty grounded in proof

Drop of experience: a drop comes from the ocean, goes through transformation, becomes drop, goes through transformation, returns to the ocean, etc: cloud of experience

(Heraclitus: all things flow: stasis is a thing: stasis flows: etc)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Random notes from Zizek's talk at Duke yesterday.

Jameson introduces Zizek: a pretty curious intro, dismissing areas of Zizek's body of work, emphasizing others: presents a holy trinity for Zizek, Hegel/Lacan/Hitchcock: emphasizes the importance of introducing a familiar figure: an introduction is more important when one is familiar with the figure than when unfamiliar.

Zizek hits the stage, seems a little coked-out (maybe just allergies?) -- feels at home at Duke, as Jameson is one of his five or six friends (the sixth is still a question to him). Some prelim remarks about the intellectual currents in/around Iraq, that intellectuals involved are turning to Kant and Heidegger, while feminists are referencing Habermas. Zizek has recently been trying to re-introduce Lenin as an intellectual figure: first out of provocation, then to incorporate him into and be the occasion for Zizek's own games.

Materialist interest in theology: materialists are the only true believers. A Lacanian joke is used to illustrate the nature of belief: a man is admitted to a psychiatric facility because he thinks he is a seed of grain: after much time, he no longer believes this and re-enters the outside world: but he immediately returns, trembling with fear because he thinks a large chicken is after him: the doctors say, "but you know that you are not a seed of grain": "yes," says the man, "but does the chicken know that?"

Zizek then discusses Marx and commodity objects: that Marx inverts expectations: you would expect Marx to look at a religious item and discuss it in terms of the labor that produced the object, and the object's use value: instead, Marx discusses an ordinary commodified object and discusses its metaphysical meaning, and how analysis should aim to understand that: that the opposition is not between appearance/reality, but appearance/near-appearance

or to invoke the joke: we know that a commodified object is merely the product of capitalism, but try telling that to the object: it doesn't interact w/ other objects as though it understands this: it's not just how we talk about commodities, but how commodities talk amongs themselves

Zizek also invokes the chicken joke when discussing Christianity: only religion where there is a point at which God doesn't believe in Himself (Christ on the cross): only religion that at some point appears to be atheist

Also, that one does not have to have belief to have praxis: another jokey anecdote: a friend of his has a horse-shoe above the entry to his home as it is suppose to keep bad spirits out: someone asks him, "you don't really believe in that superstition, do you?": "of course not" the man says, "but the horse-shoe will work whether I believe in it or not"

also AA and Pascal's Pensees are invoked: Pascal's instructions to those have trouble believing: behave as though you do: get on your knees, and pray, and soo enough you will believe

also, Pascal's admonition: don't believe too directly, go through actions instead

(here I have a little problem following the thread)

for us, the problem is not belief, but proximity: attempt to not only not believe certain things, but also not to be in proximity with them (?)

Zizek introduces the notion that one can express racist/sexist ideas without being responsible for them by evoking the possibility of a racist belief, and then negating it: William Bennet's remark that the crime rate could be reduced by aborting all black babies and then damning the statement as monstrous: the unconscious knows no negation

also, the unconscious of the Catholic church and pedophilia: not a Jungian collective unconconcious, but something in the discursive/ritual structure: story of a priest who goes into priesthood straight and after awhile begins behaving like a pedophile

another anecdote: Zizek as a student, trying to spoil socialist elections, or the propaganda involved: best way is not to protest, but to act stupid: best way to disturb the underneath structure is to stay loyal to the surface in an excessive manner: take the elections to be as they are spun to be, democratic: in your student newspaper, write up the socialist victory as a legitimate and wonderful surprise

moves towards a discussion of fundamentalism and belief: distinction between belief and knowledge: belief as an engaged madness, an engaged wager that has no guarantee, whether a belief in Christ or in human rights: fundamentalism is a threat not to social order but to belief

Zizek doesn't think that belief necessarily leads to violence: as globalization and communication increases: understanding has to be matched with a new distance: alienation might be the answer

alienation includes distance as an a priori

Zizek than evokes a Lacanian move, from subjective violence (person to person) to symbolic violence (as meaning) to objective violence (the violence necessary to maintain the basic ground we take as the constant zero level): from Marx, capital not just as a horror of a social reality, but out of the experience of capital a horrible explosion of subjectivity (?)

objective violence: lowest level of energy for a body is not doing nothing, but of maintaining whatever the stasis is: invisible violence, ground of social life: what we label as violence is compared to the zero, which is itself violently maintained

the mystery is not how things change, but how they stay the same

conclusion: must take the cost of the social zero sum to understand violent outbursts

France: liberals missed the nature of the violence, 1) in the riots, a complete absence of utopian prospects coming out of the actions: no demands were made: was resistance to be recognized as resistance (the zero level of protest: McLuhan medium/message) -- protestors not seeking to find a solution, but to assert that there is a problem; 2) the power of resentment -- (tougher to follow here -- many wipes of nose) -- the market experienced as fate, not failure: when resentment is involved, it is not enough for you to win, your neighbor/other must also lose

a move to contemporary fear of harrassment: blurring of distinction b/w harrassmant and proximity: looking and talking taken as violence: verbal rape: visual rape

what we share w/ the Taliban: libidinal interaction something to fear and control: prevent proximity, traumatic presence of other/neighbor

tolerance = intolerance of proximity

what is needed: accept the neighbor in his/her inhumanity: a real pc ethics would accept the other in all its monstrosity

"When I hear the word culture I reach for my gun" : transformed into "When I hear a gun I reach for my culture"
Yo, new blog: Christopher Salerno's Whirligig.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Among the reasons I find myself less interested in the 'not-okayness' of Flarf as such:

Flarf is precisely OK. In the Flarf genesis narrative, the initiating act is Gary Sullivan sending his purposefully awful poem to, and then having accept it. But then that seems pretty key, that it was accepted. And also the fact that Flarf enjoys a more popular appeal (at least as a 'news of the weird' type of story) than other types of poetry: its not-okayness is super ok. It could be seen as a mass entertainment poetry dressed up as subversion (like Jackass? Howl? Sex Pistols?). Which is, of course, fine in-and-of-itself: like everyone says, there's hardly any tactic of subversion that isn't marketable.

It's not the not-okayness of Flarf that is so interesting, but its okayness: that it does have some mass appeal, and can circulate in various popular venues (BBC, Village Voice, Boing Boing) and that it is largely culled from non-literary uses: I was inching towards this in my Fascicle essay, and this is something that I picked up from a post from Kasey to the Poetics List: that Flarf is an opportunity maybe less for the putting to use of marginalized, not-okay language uses, but a demonstration of how marginalized, not-okay recognizably poetic usage is (whatever general straw figure can be inserted here).

To borrow a formulation or two from Judith Butler, Flarf troubles notions of normal or mainstream language use: there is no rule that poems have to use 'normal' or 'mainstream' language, but Flarf poems could be wheeled in as counter-instances to a poetics that justifies itself by its mainstream-ness, its normality. Flarf shows a way that 'normal poetry usage' can be shown to be quite abnormal in a different context.

Or to use the whole performative thang: Flarf as less a performance utilizing poor under-educated rubes as targets of ridicule: more Flarf performing ways poems might be different when they utilize the logics of linguistic usage that are not so common in poems: and a reader considers the Flarf poem circulating amongs other poem-poems, and if the reader identifies differences there, the reader then has the choice to consider not only the poems but the differences between them.

Again, thinking thru things -- if you're working on an essay hoping to undress my naivete, please at least utilize the above as notes in progress and not my final words on the topic.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Mrs. Featherbottom's enchanting entrance from the balcony

Most likely the funniest scene in human history.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Terrific discussion over at Jessica Smith's LookTouch.
2 Legit 4 Print?


I'm basically saying: what becomes visible if we view legitimacy not as an intrinsically positive state to attain, but as rather a device by which the typical cigar-chomping powers-that-be (that many of us turned online to find refuge from) perpetuates their authority and control?


Josh weighs in, with usual grace, from a difficult position (being in the article that is being critiqued).

So, the whole "women don't blog" thing. Or "women blog differently." I get suuper uncomfortable with any kind of essentialist/totalizing "Women are from Collage/Men are from Discourse" suggestion (which violently reducts Josh's stance). He's not making that argument at all--and this may be just how my own mind works--but I find that his more nuanced position can be reformulated to the more gross one. I just don't know how such a generalization can NOT be problematic. For instance, Josh says many female poets'

blogs have a more holistic feel, integrating poems and commentary on poetry with images and anecedotes from their daily lives (I think this especially true in the case of bloggers who are also mothers). Such blogs are less likely to be recognized as "poetry blogs" by those on the lookout for the kind of compartmentalized commentary that men tend to be comfortable with, and which more closely resemble the look and feel of the existing print journals (with their columns and demarcated pages, their tables of contents, and so forth) which Craig's article in particular reifies as the "center" of the poetry world.

His is a positive outlook that it is the abundance of a feminine tendency and the narrowness of a masculine one that results in the gendering in the PW article. But a gendering of tendencies--does that ever go well?

What I mean: the positive argument could be made the flip-side of an argument that I could imagine certain commentors in Silliman's blog might make, "Well, ladies, if you'd dust off your criticism chops and get down to some real poetry blogging, then you'd get included in the conversation." The fault doesn't lay with the articles author, or notions of legitimacy, etc., but with the women bloggers: if more of you blogged the way I think you should, I'd recognize it.

Again, Josh is obviously not making that argument in the slightest -- my concern is just that I don't know if the first position (Josh's) can be presented without the second (vulgar) one tagging along. And I'm mostly wanted to think through my own biases in these type of things -- I'm far from being the sort of ideal agent that none of the above could be describing. But I'm trying to think through these positions that I didn't (for a long time) realize I could be thinking through, and Josh's post seems to touch upon some of these difficulties.
On an illegit poetry sphere:

Seriously, I think it's good on a macro level -- by presenting this opinion, I'm mostly trying to contest the legitimization narrative: because most likely, the terms for what is legit is dictated by the prestige type institutions already in place (whether they be BAP, Academy of Am Poets, big presses, etc). It'd be more interesting if being 'legit' was refused in some fashion, as opposed to being the inevitable end of the online poetry world, that which will make it more 'real'.

Because when, ultimately, will the online poetry world be most legit? When it begins to resemble most acutely the print world.

Even in the PW article, the online world is defined by its relation to the print world: this magazine has published a Pulitzer prize winner, this blogger started his blog to accompany his book, this famous blogger defines his 'hits' success against his relatively lack of print 'hits,' etc. That's probably a necessity for this kind of article. What I'm trying to point towards the idea of a different frame of reference (which I'm not in secret possession of, of course) outside of that article.

The exciting thing about online is the possibility of different kinds of models, not the continuation and replication of pre-existing ones.

I think it's that kind of possibility that helps make the disappointment Reb, Shanna and others are expressing over the gendering of the picture painted in the article more disappointing -- for example, No Tell Motel probably would've been a better example of an online journal than Octopus, because its format rethinks the issue-by-issue model and more explicitly shows the kinds of possibility the online medium might possess. But Octopus better appeals to print prestige models because its published Paul Muldoon and other print stars, one of the co-founders won a random award, etc: so it can be more easily presented as legit, because there are elements that reinforce the legitimizing force of current models.

I don't want to beat up too much on the article, because of its good intentions -- I think its biases are a result of its venue of publication and its imagined audience.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The article means well, but I HATE the 'getting as legit as as print' narrative. Let's not kid ourselves: online publications are much less legit than print ones, which is good thing.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Remember Game 6 of the '86 World Series? Remember RBI Baseball? Love Vin Scully? Enjoy works of jaw dropping genius? If you answered yes to any of the above, go here.
Happy to see the careers of poet/editors Zachary Schomberg and Aaron McCullough beginning to have the kind of phenom success enjoyed by John Ashberry, Charles Olsen and Rosemary Waldrep.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Next year's burden.

Studies in Classic American Poetry

Lentricchia, Frank. Intensive readings of selected poems of Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Stevens, and Williams. Focus on the dialectical themes of imagination and nature, perception and the object, language and the real. Poems as implicit theories of the function of poetry. Several short essays.

Articulating Race and Psychoanalysis with Politics

Viego, Antonio. This course explores the questions that elect themselves when one juxtaposes ethnic-racialized subjectivity and psychoanalytic theory specifically, in this course, Lacanian psychoanalytic theory with an eye toward developing an anti-racist praxis. As a starting point we will consider the feasibility and effectiveness of framing the project of articulating politics with psychoanalysis as Tim Dean recommends in Beyond Sexuality according to both the losses that have to do with the unequal distribution of social resources, dignity and visibility and the losses that are constitutive of subjectivity as such, that Jacques Lacan teaches have to do with the privative but generative effects of language as structure on the speaking organism. Does one need to attend to a more textured and historicized account of the loss that yields from the effects of language as structure when the speaking organism in question is marked out as ethnic-racialized? Is the general claim that all subjects experience a loss of being as a result of the effects of language as structure a problematic ahistorical and universalizing proposition? In her 1996 landmark essay, “‘All the Things You Could Be By Now if Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother’: Race and Psychoanalysis” Hortense Spillers writes that the human is traversed by race before language and its differential laws take effect, a point that implies that prior to the subjectivation attributable to the effects of language as structure on the speaking organism there is a preliminary form of subjectivation undergone by ethnic-racialized subjects. Throughout, the course asks after the ongoing hostility toward psychoanalytic theory in a variety of critical race and ethnicity knowledge projects, including African American studies, Latino/a studies and Asian American studies. For better or worse, Freudian and especially Lacanian psychoanalytic theory is interpreted as antithetical and even dangerous to any politicized, anti-racist discourse. This has not been the case with post-WWII variants of Freudian psychoanalysis, like ego psychology or subfields of psychology like social psychology whose assumptions continue to serve as the very backbone of fields like ethnic psychology and Hispanic psychology. In her most recent book, The Protestant Ethnic, Rey Chow develops a term she names “coercive mimeticism” which she defines as “the level at which the ethnic person is expected to come to resemble what is recognizably ethnic. To resemble and replicate the very banal preconceptions that have been appended to them?”(109). This course will, building on Chow’s grim diagnosis, explore the promise of Lacanian psychoanalysis’ theory of the subject in language to interrupt both the deceptively amplifying force of the hailing of oneself as ethnic-racialized and the abiding belief in the substantive content embedded in that hailing. This is the problem as this course sees it: we have developed no effective language to talk about ethnic-racialized subjectivity that is not entirely ego or social psychological and that does not, as a result, imagine a strong ego as the desired outcome in a racist, white supremacist society. But yet, the stronger the ego, the more alienated the subject. In addition to the readings already keyed above we will look at selections from Lacan’s Ecrits as well as parts of Seminars I, II, and VII, Yannis Stavrakakis’ Lacan and the Political, Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, Patricia Gherovici’s The Puerto Rican Syndrome, Ranjana Khanna’s Dark Continents: Psychoanalysis and Colonialism, and the exchanges between Slavoj Zizek and Judith Butler in Contingency, Hegemony, Universality. As prerequisite reading for the course, I would strongly encourage us to read over the summer Bruce Fink’s excellent and arguably the best introduction to Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance. We’ll also be reading this text during the course of the semester.


Surin, Kenneth. Gilles Deleuze is widely regarded as France's most important philosopher since the Second World War, the influence of Sartre notwithstanding. This course will begin with an examination of his two books on Cinema, before considering two of his more 'historical' texts (the books on Leibniz and Nietzsche), before proceeding to consider the two volumes of the Capitalisme et schizophrenie project. The readings will conclude with a study of Difference and Repetition. In between some of Deleuze's more influential smaller pieces will be read. The readings will be in the English translations, though students wishing to work in the French originals will be encouraged to do so. The grade will be based on a term paper.


Class I really wanted to take but it didn't fit my schedule:

Inventing the Museum

Examines the rise of the German public museum in its European cultural contexts in the nineteenth century. Uses history and theories of collecting and exhibiting to explore intersecting discourses of architecture, art history, cultural history, literature and politics that constitute the museum and delineate its privileged place in nineteenth-century German and European culture. Introduces methods for using primary sources in cultural studies research and the study of literature in terms of collecting and exhibiting. Taught in English.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Although I don't agree with him a hundred percent of the time (only about 98 percent of the time), I always love reading Thomas' take on things.

There's another Flarf blow up in blogtown, this time centered over at Chris Daniels' blog, which, among other things, accuses Flarfists of classism, racism, sexism and general smirkiness. I don't personally find the rant useful in thinking with any complexity or particularity about Flarf or the utilization of Google in the composition of poems: not because of any essential flaw with Chris' faculties or character, but simply because of his insistence on generalizations: Thomas' comments present an opportunity to explore the charges more specifically, but as of yet that opportunity doesn't seem to be taken up.

(I think it's important to restate: Flarf and Google shouldn't be automatically conflated: there is Google-sculpting, which can be described as a process used by numerous writers, some Flarfists among them; there is also Flarf itself, which I guess the easiest definition is 'being anything that has to do w/ Gary Sullivan' or, as Gary has suggested in the comments to this post, "that done by those on the list in the general spirit of the list") (my first definition sounds snarky, and I guess is, but I think is an accurate and usable short-hand: if Gary is involved in some direct or indirect manner, it's Flarf; if he isn't, it's something else).

Anyway, Thomas' point: you can't accuse a Flarf poem of being sexist/racist/etc in its statements if you're also accusing it of being classist by exploiting 'uneducated/ignorant' language usage. You kind of have to pick one or the other. Or neither.

For discussion's sake, I'll excuse our imaginary Google-generated Flarf poem of its content: a construct of accessible, circulating surfaces, as Thomas might say, and not self-expression.

So how about classist exploitation, especially since Chris wants to talk about class, but doesn't want to follow Thomas into the particularities of whether or not the utilization of Google-compiled statements is in fact an elitist, mocking practice?

Flarfist self-definitions are often wheeled-in as evidence of this argument -- and even in early versions of my essay that I put up in the first Fascicle, I express my frustrations with what I took to be a certain coyness/cuteness to Flarfist statements. But let's take the self-definition of Flarf as being "not okay" or "wrong." This can be read numerous ways.

If the purpose of a Flarf poem is to mainly mock language uses that occur in outlets like chatrooms, message boards, etc., then this identification of the language used in Flarf poems as not okay or wrong fits in well w/ Chris' (and others') charges.

But, those of us who find ourselves more compelled by certain Flarf poems don't usually point to this kind of mocking finger-pointing as what is compelling -- again, in my earliest version of my essay I made hasty generalizations about non-Kasey Flarf poems (at least the ones in the Combo issue) as being mostly jokey/mocking, and tiring. I wouldn't make the same hasty generalizations now, but when Flarf poems don't work for me, it is often that they seem to be mostly just presenting "not okay" language as just that.

But when Flarf poems really work on me, they often seem to generate a kind of energy that seems pretty unique to them -- maybe some Bruce Andrews and Linh Dinh poems also generate similar anxious energy for me, as well as Ben Friedlander's Anti-Hegemony Project in Simulcast. The "wrongness" or "not okayness" is of the type I gestured to in my intro for Silliman's reading here last month: the sense of 'playing mistakes' and organizing them in an artful way (Rasula on Ornette Coleman).

The charge of exploitation/classism holds up best if you take the Googled language as being of the inner or non-self-conscious expressions of people who don't know any better: mocking the unintentionally "Flarfy" statements of ordinary rubes as Koons-esque "so bad it's good" kind of art (as Silliman refers to Flarf). I think this really reduces and undercuts both Flarf and, especially, the Googled language.

Certainly much of the language that ends up in Flarf poems is not intended to be as "not okay" as it reads in that context, but: what I think is most interesting is when a Flarf poem becomes more exciting and interesting than much 'okay' poetry (of whatever stripe) exactly because it utilizes language acts that don't seem to occur in poems, but, as our imaginary successful Flarf poem demonstrates, such language acts should occur in poems, because they are so interesting/exciting/moving/strange: effective.

Google definitely can't sample all language acts. But one can access language as it is utilized in various online mediums and contexts, and I think that might be part of the key: if one considers entering into a chatroom or message board as an entry into a performative/improvisatory space and not just as arenas of un-self-conscious expression (one's 'inner life' vocalized), I think this could skew those charges of classism and exploitation: Friedlander's Anti-Hegemony Project is interesting not just in how humorous it is to see Silliman, Hejinian, et al discussed in a similar way as a pop culture figure like Madonna -- I found it interesting because of the excitement I felt in being keyed in to a different (and totally refreshing) way of discussing poets -- one that is more energetic -- and also one that can serve as an entry point to a kind of discourse that doesn't have kowtow to current hegemonic (acceptable) practices.

So, a successful Flarf poem (our imaginary one is both Google-derived and 'not okay') could be read as making this argument:

1) there are acceptable poetic language usages, and there are unacceptable poetic language usages

2) this here poem is largely constructed from language usages that weren't intended to be poetic

3) language is utilized in this poem in a manner that many would not deem acceptably poetic

4) and yet, this poem is more interesting and compelling than many poems that are intended to be poetic

5) perhaps a reconsideration of what kind of language usages are poetic is in order

6) current utilizations of poetic language and linguistic performance are less interesting than the utilizations of language and linguistic performance that can be found outside the discourse networks of poetry (in such unprestigious contexts as chatrooms, message boards, blogs, personal web pages, etc).


This is not a definitive defense of Flarf, and I'd prefer not to get too involved in the personal-attack sessions going on -- it's rather my attempt to look at ways a generalized charge of classism and elitist mockery can be complicated by taking Thomas' lead and pursuing alternate reading approaches -- and this would be the thing that I'm always learning from Thomas, his constant attempt to alter his reading strategies and assumptions to account for the strange particularities of whatever interesting text comes before him. Which is why I suppose why we're both continually drawn to talk about Flarf -- because elements of it do seem to require a reconsideration of how to read and think about poetry.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Country Songs I Love

"Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)"
written and performed by Alan Jackson

This song, whenever I've been in the vicinity of another person of my general age/social demographic, gets a snide reaction, and usually a derisive laugh at the "don't know the difference between Iraq and Iran" part. I love this song, for several reasons. It's been described as apolitical, but I think that's a narrow reading: check out the multiplicity of reactions Jackson gives voice to in the song:

"Did you stand there in shock at the sight of that black smoke"

"Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble"

"Did you burst out in pride for the red, white and blue"

"Did you feel guilty cause you’re a survivor"

"[Did you] Go out and buy you a gun"

"Did you turn off that violent movie you're watching
And turn on I Love Lucy reruns"

"Did you go to a church and hold hands with some strangers"

I don't think this is an insignificant, or unintentional, move by Jackson -- as opposed to say the Bush administration, and much popular consent, Jackson isn't pointing at just one legitimate reaction to 9/11 (retaliation). A variety of reactions are consented to -- from internalized emotions (guilt, pride) -- to specific actions (dusting off a Bible, giving blood). The reaction that maybe most clearly echoes a macho response (buying a gun), is sung not in triumph -- Jackson gives an almost mournful reading of the line, and it is immediately countered with a refusal not just of violence, but even the representation of violence (turning off the violent movie and switching to a domestic sitcom). In an atmosphere of revenge and violence (Osama wanted dead or alive, etc), I find Jackson's refusal of that kind of united, inevitable reaction moving, effective and even subtly subversive.

So what about the "I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you / the difference between Iraq and Iran" line in the chorus?

Well, as opposed to celebrating political ignorance, I'd suggested a different approach. First, I think you have to be aware of the Culture of Humility that has reigned in most mainstream country music songs for years -- apart from issues of gender and locale, I'd guess that much of the virulent response against the Dixie Chicks' for Natalie Maines' statement of being ashamed of Bush when they were in London had to do with the breach of this assumption of country humility -- certainly the political sympathies of the predominantly Republican listening base also played a large role, but left-leaning stars such as Willie Nelson don't receive the same kind of backlash, perhaps because he still conforms to the country humility norm by sticking to acceptable projects like FarmAid -- even his response to being sued for back taxes by the IRS was done in admirably self-effacing fashion: the albums he sold to raise money were called Selling My Memories.

Maybe a better example of the Culture of Humility is the 80s hit by Don Williams, "I Believe," which like "Where Were You," is subtly and humbly subversive. Here are some of the verses:

I don't believe in superstars,
Organic food and foreign cars.
I don't believe the price of gold;
The certainty of growing old.
That right is right and left is wrong,
That north and south can't get along.
That east is east and west is west.
And being first is always best.
But I believe in love . . .


Well, I don't believe that heaven waits,
For only those who congregate.
I like to think of God as love:
He's down below, He's up above.
He's watching people everywhere.
He knows who does and doesn't care.
And I'm an ordinary man,
Sometimes I wonder who I am.

OK, so regardless of one' s opinion about such a culture that puts such a premium on (vocalized) humility, hopefully you'll entertain the notion that such a culture has/does exist.

So, the chorus of "Where Were You" begins:

I’m just a singer of simple songs
I’m not a real political man
I watch CNN but I’m not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran

What these lines are doing:

1) reaffirming the singer/speaker as an acceptably humble, ordinary, working class person -- probably too busy driving a semi down a cold interstate or teaching a class full of innocent children to be up on his or her Chomsky -- the singer/speaker tries to stay informed (CNN instead of ESPN), but is aware of his limitations, and

2) reassuring the listener that just because he or she doesn't know all the intricate details of the Middle East, they are still entitled to their reactions, that they have legitimacy

Why is Jackson doing this? To pat the listener on the head and say, "it's ok, leave it to the authorities"? That wouldn't be my reading. Here are the last lines of the chorus:

But I know Jesus, and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young.
Faith, hope and love are some good things he gave us
And the greatest is love.

In the genre of country songwriting, I don't know what elements carry more weight that humility, God, and childhood. So, Jackson is reaching out to his listener: "I'm a humble person, not a know-it-all academic/liberal, and was raised in a traditional Christian manner, and maintain that faith." Jackson has situated himself squarely in the middle of his medium's tradition -- and the ultimate message of his song, from this centralized position: "Faith, hope and love are some good things he gave us, and the greatest is love."

To give context: this song was written and released in 9/11's shadow, while a rock icon like Paul McCartney was singing "This is my right/Given by God . . .I will fight for my right for freedom": in this context, mainstream country superstar Alan Jackson utilized the traditional conventions and stances of his medium to construct a moving, immensely popular song that voiced a multiplicity of reactions to the recent tragedy, and effectively locates a message of love in the face of violence as not some hippie or academic pipedream, but as a mainstream Christian American working class value.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The new Black Warrior Review is out, in which the entirety of my "Complex Sleep" piece appears as a chapbook.

Here is the opening note to the piece:

“Complex Sleep” consists of alphabetically arranged sentences and significant syntactical units (presented in sentence form) that made up a longish prose poem called Complex Sleep which I wrote between August of 2004 and February of 2005 and which was intended as a reconsideration of statements, assumptions and values embedded in previously written pieces found in Amplifier for Hercules and elsewhere. For instance, the sentence “Two swing sets are nearly touching” from my book Invisible Bride was rewritten in Complex Sleep as “Two sentences are nearly touching.” Most of the sentences, however, diverged much more distinctly from the seed sentence or line. The line “warbler transfixed, nested. Newest record” from the poem “Ink Drop” was rewritten as “Warbler, all the lilies have wilted.” These sentences were arranged in their current alphabetical order on the evening of February 28th, 2005. A further re-staging occurred in the last week of July 2005 as line breaks and spaces were inserted into the piece.

Sections of the original version of Complex Sleep appeared in Backwards City, Filling Station, H_NGM_N, The Hat and Talisman. Complex Sleep itself exists now only in memory, or in a perpetual state of potentiality. It no longer exists.