Monday, March 24, 2008

Response to Kasey


I'm sleep-deprived but I hope I'll make some sense today.

Basically I agree with most of what you say; your disagreement with my original statement comes largely from my sloppy way of writing.

1) I absolutely agree with you that neat divisions of poetry into innovative vs quietism on the whole don't hold up. My reference to these divisions in the original post was meant in large part to evoke the rhetoric of these presses, journals, anthologies etc. Or perhaps, the rhetoric of our current time: Seems like everybody says, I'm open to the whole spectrum, from Hejinian to Revell. This is what I take from Reginald's posts on the Internet when he says: there is no outside because both Hejinian and Revell are being published. Well of course there is a whole lot of poetry that has to do with neither poet.

2)This space of compromise (or inclusion) seems to have a lot to do with defending an idea of the "lyric." And it is the seemingly unquestioned nature of this "lyric" that I would like to see more discussion about. To me, this idea of the lyric suggests elevated language,which suggests a language with a center. Major poetry. This is clearly just the very tip of the iceberg so to speak. I just think there should be more questioning about this “lyric.”

3) In the space of compromise, it seems like poetry is formalized. I mean a large part of what made Langpo great was bringing out he politics of language. In this space of compromise they become formal innovators. You’re right that given this context, someone like Waldrop comes off was “elevated”. She’s turned into “formal innovation” (what could be more dreadful!?). This is true of Scalapino perhaps most of all; her poetry seems incredibly involved in the social and now it’s turned into this beautiful book. [Notice: these are poets who are already established. That’s key.]

4) You ask me whether my describing Revell as “ultra-quietist” has to do with his poetry or his criticism – I would say both. I would say, aren’t they part of the same business?

5) I would absolutely agree with you that ultimately this is about “legitimacy.” And that’s in large part what irritates me about a lot of this – what Joyelle called “anthological thinking” in her “Numbers Game” article on Delirious Hem. This constant production of the “teachable”, the legitimate – this is poetry we are supposed to admire in its casing in the American Poetry Wax Museum.

6) You’re right that the Cali books are beautiful and some of them I’ve liked as well. Mark Levine’s second book, as an anthem to castration, is pretty interesting. But I much prefer presses that don’t try to “represent the spectrum” but have a vision and are going for it – I was just reading Black Ocean’s latest book “Holy Land” by Rauan Klassnik, which seems to be part of their ongoing project to engage with Henri Michaux’s “new torture operations”. Or whatever press published “The Thorn” and “Dark Brandon” – they were really going for something, from the black blank cover to the video collages inside. Etc.

7) I really don’t think UCA press is open to just any old style. That’s a way way overstatement. And it does go back to the lyric and its baggage. I really do think it has to do with defening an idea of the lyric. And if I could be more specific I would be a good critic. But I do think this is something to examine.

8) I appreciate your response and I’ll think more about it.


Blogger Jasper Bernes said...

It would be difficult, I suppose, to account for all of the meanings attributed to "lyric" today, since the term became synonymous with poetry sometime in the 19th century. But a beginning might be had by thinking of it in relation to "epic," where epic is more concerned with the social and historical and lyric with the psychological or phenomenological. In this sense, modernism, at least in my reading, makes "epic" synonymous with "major"--Pound's Cantos, for instance, or Olson's Maximus poems. Or The Bridge or Paterson. Not that there aren't "minor" epics (Midwinter Day, for instance, or Ashbery's Three Poems, or My Life). But I think that, for instance, Silliman's long works are probably much more aligned with "major" epic than they are with poems concerned with minor attitudes, affects and stances. All of this is a way of saying that I don't think a critique of "lyric" or "major" attitudes in contemporary writing will tell us all that much. Lyric has been a vehicle for all kinds of minor affects and stances--think of Dickinson or Niedecker or Celan. Especially in Modernism, once the prose epic or poetic (or lyric) epic becomes the privileged genre, lyric qua lyric begins to index possible experiences and states that have been left behind by the will to remake society along the lines of the modernist ideal.

I'm also not convinced by the distinction between monoglossic and heteroglossic poetry as having some kind of innate political value (I think I said this here a few years ago). Certainly, heteroglossic, macaronic and multi-lingual writing that bounces between registers is exciting and it's something that should be valued and supported. But there's plenty of monoglossic writing that's valuable, too. Stein, for instance, is an extraordinarily monoglossic writer.
As important as Bakhtin is for his account of the development of different prose forms, when his terms becomes evaluative (i.e., heteroglossic-good, monoglossic-bad) they aren't all that useful to me, even for prose narrative. For poetry, I think they're pretty well disastrous. Lastly, if we're going to talk about D+G, it would be worth mentioning that the Bw/oO is itself monoglossic. The plane of consistency is central to their conception of difference, and, in terms of writing, this field would probably look like Stein or Beckett, where the differences are there but can't be conceptualized as difference.

9:56 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Certainly, I don't believe in straight-up Bakhtin - since all of poetry is monoglossic. I take his ideas and move them in my own direction.

What I take from Bakhtin is not necessarily that monoglossic and "macaronic" poetry are in inherent and absolute opposition. With monoglossic, I mean something more with a sense of purity and autonomy, legitimacy.

As for Stein's monoglossia - Bernstein and Spahr have both argued to the contrary, that Stein's writing is a kind of foreignese. I don't think of it as foreignese (I think that's an attempt to create a more overtly ethical, immigrant-Stein), but I don't think of it as monoglossic: in its permutating, un-settled, constantly moving quality it seems the opposite in many ways. That's why Eliot was so threatened by it - it was "of the barbarians" or whatever he said.

To argue that there's no politics involved in mono/hetero seems crazy. If you buy that one poetry establishes a center - that in fact that is one of its major functions - then I don't see how it can't be political. One issue here may be what you see as "political." But it's also impossible to buy into D+G and not see language as political.

Certainly not all lyric is about maintaining a centricity of language - Dickinson, Celan are wonderful examples. I'm not sure I made this clear - but I think a certain idea of the lyric (not anything ever conceived of as "lyric") that is prevalent in these anthologies etc is what should be questioned.

I have no idea how you can say that BWO is monoglossic. First of all it is never attained. Secondly it is interpenetrated by various flows and forces. Monoglossia creates an inside and an outside, creates a language where there are many. How can you have a totally interpenetrated BWO when most languages are walled out? The monoglossic creates an illusion of a true/central language at the cost of excluding all kinds of languages. That is in large part what D+G's "Major" does as well.

Monoglossia for me is all about striation. In the case of these presses and anthologies, establishing a center, within insides and outsides, trying to control flows.

D+G do talk about Beckett a great deal as their favorite author. Why? Because of his "stammering" of language. Or "It was Proust who said that "masterpieces are written in a kind of foreign language." That is the same as stammering, making language stammer rather than stammering in speech. To be a foreigner, but in one's own tongue, not only when speaking a language other than one's own. To be bilingual, multilingual, but in one and the same language, without even a dialect or patois. To be bastard, a half-breeed etc etc."

I think maybe your misreading of me is this: that I am advocating a kind of neo-regionalism or dialect poetry something like that. I remember some discussion where you thought that I called for a kind of base, self-consciously "bad" English. That's not what I am interested in. For me heteroglossia does not have to be dialect - in fact it is dialectless - the minor is not in making yiddish so to speak, but in using the yiddish to create a minor German, to use the Kafka example.

For me the prime example of minor lit is Aase Berg's work, which is certainly not dialect poetry - but which uses elements of Swedish (and other languages) to turn it into a "foreign" language "inside" of the Swedish language.

For me translation is also key. Although D+G claim that it must be coincidence that almost all their favorite writers write in "bilingual situations" (Becket, Kafka, Godard etc). But I think bilingualism tends to undo the illusion and appeal of the major. So it's not coincidence.

1:53 PM  
Blogger Jasper Bernes said...

Well, it seems you want "monoglossic" to mean "major" and "heteroglossic" to mean "minor." I'm not sure the binaries will line up that way. For instance, I don't see any reason why monoglossic should imply purity or autonomy or legitimacy--a royal language, so to speak. Stein's foreignese notwitstanding, her work is still totally monoglossic, because there is only one "voice" in Stein, however "minor" or marginal that one voice is. I think you lose something when you collapse these two binaries into each other.

And yes, I'll stand by my statement that there's nothing inherently progressive about the heteroglossic, nor anything regressive about the monoglossic. Eliot's The Waste Land, for instance, is an inarguably heteroglossic poem, but one whose deployment of multiple voices, styles, modalities, etc., serves in the end to shore up a certain view of the unity of experience according to a particular mythological perspective. Of course, his use of collage and fragmentation is exciting, and manages to be a lot savvier than he is. But there's still no inherent political value to hetero- glossia--especially not today. Doesn't the market have its own version of heteroglossia, in which an infinite diversity of opinions and styles is tolerated so long as each one submits to its abstract equivalence (and irrelevance)?

About Beckett and B w/o O, I suppose it depends upon where you stand with regard to Deleuze's claims about the "univocity of being." Whenever we are in the realm of smooth rather than striated spaces--the B w/o O, plane of consistency, abstract machine etc.--I think that we're meant to hear his earlier claims about univocity in D&R. Univocity and monoglossia sound a lot alike. They're almost mononyms.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


The reason I bring in Bakhtin at all is that I like the way monoglossic implies a number of things: isolation from the social, elevation, and most of all a centripedal movement. I think maybe in this regard I have failed to show my movement from Bakhtin to Deleuze (I will try to do so this weekend or near future).

6:26 AM  

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