Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Some clarification

Here I will briefly try to explain some of my views in very broad strokes:

- There is no true, natural or normal language, but many languages.

- This is why I keep referencing Bakhtin's "monoglossia" on this blog. His idea of poetry as something that asserts the illusion that there is one central, correct language, represented in the lyric, rather than a multitude of dialects and languages. If we learn the "rules" good enough we will be able to speak language perfectly.

- And this is why I keep criticizing Ron's views of poetry because they are totally based on the idea of perfecting language - of having a "good ear" as he keeps writing in reviews. Well that "good ear" is the "native ear."

- Just as there is not set "normal" literature, there is no inherently "normal body." That's a concept with even more coercive,political purposes. As people like Foucault and Lennard Davis have shown, the obsession with "the normal body" (or standardized body) is a 19th century invention, having much to do with nation building and capitalism. Foucault notes that it used to be the "ideal body" and then the rest of us flawed. The results of the normal body can be pretty horrific - eugenics, holocausts, various injustices suffered to deaf people, hate crimes against gay people etc. Also: the over-medicalization of subjects.

- The grotesque precedes "the normal body" but I think it takes on a new and slightly different meaning in this modern capitalist world. Perhaps this resulted in the popularity of "the Gothic," but I don't know enough about that to say anything relevant.

- When I talk of the grotesque (or translation in "the disabled text") as "non-normative", I certainly don't mean that it portrays figures that don't fit in with the norm for the sake of gawking at abnormal people (though that is the danger -"the gothic gaze"), but that it moves away from the idea of normalcy itself. The effect of a lot of this work is not to re-assert normalcy vs abnormality, but to show that nobody is in the end "normal." And I think that is part of the problem of Ian Curtis in the film; his non-normal body threatens a "realism" built on a kind of normalcy. This is of course a complex issue.

- The big illusion here is based on: normal = natural (in both body and language). In the grotesque, everything becomes not only abberant but largely artificial, un-natural - there is no "natural." That was the original critique against the grotesque: that it was not normal, natural or moral.

- OK, let me come back to the historical avant-garde. It makes sense that they consisted largely of translated texts and sounds, imigrants and expatriates and exiles.

- And perhaps it makes sense that the body came into play in a new way in the "events" of the avant-garde, in the sound poetry (based in part on the babbling of shellshocked soldiers).

P.S. I can't go anywhere in smalltown American without getting attacked for being gay. This is another intersection of language and body.

PS #2 This doesn't begin to explain why I'm interested in the grotesque.


Blogger Jordan said...

V interested in your claim that "good ear" means normative-native - I would argue that this is true only within the context of poetry, and not within the context of the language(s) any particular poem is written in.. that is, I think the concept of a good ear can be (and usually is) brought to bear on macaronics, grotesques, flarf, conceptualism, etc under the sign of aesthetics, shapeliness, mysterious cellular rightness. Why I don't know. But I see it over and over.

7:20 AM  
Blogger Jasper Bernes said...

Hey Johannes,

Have you read Lee Edelman's No Future? It seems like it would complement your account here. . .

No Future

It's an attack on various normalizing rhetorics within queer theory.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I have no idea how a good ear would have to do with Flarf - either the good or the ear, since Flarf doesn't strike me as aural. I'll have to look for that. Both flarf and grotesque seems to be largely about wrongness, awkwardness, embarassment.

When Ron writes about good ear or even ear itself - for example his American ear cannot make sense of British poetry, he wrote a while back - it almost always has to do with a certain "fluency." He has even gone as far as to suggest that non-native English speakers (such as myself) should not translate because they don't have good enough "ears." That is we are more likely to deform English in an attempt to make it sound like the foreign language, to write "translatese."

Jasper, I'll look into that book. Thanks for the recommendation. I do find that a lot of the people writing about things in ways that jive with my own thinking tend to be from queer theory and disability theory.

8:21 AM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

I certainly hope no one is expecting you to say WHY you're interested in the grotesque. As if you need a reason....

I'm in agreement with you on lyric and the body, in the sense that I believe they are some of the many tools used to ostracize people you dislike. Despite whatever Ron says, I think poetry and language ought to be about erasing those lines and binaries.

By the way, I'm wondering what Ron's definition of a "native speaker" is. I grew up speaking two languages. Does that make me a native speaker or not? Would he argue that I am not a native English speaker or not a native Gujarati speaker?

I think for some people, "getting" poetry is about the refinement of language. If it uses big words and has a rhythm, then it is poetry. Otherwise, they don't "get it" and a poem is labelled "difficult." I think some believe that poetry is about "enriched" language and being the bar by which other language is measured. Language, it seems, ought to be at it's best in poetry.

I think we can agree that poetry is about the exploration of language, etc.

9:53 AM  
Blogger Max said...

The only reason why I asked Johannes "why" in the previous thread is because I was interested in the impulse behind his attachment to the subject of late, not the subjective reasoning behind his taste.

And as far as whether poetry should "be about" one ideology or another, I don't think its natural or ideal state is to be about anything at all. One of the things that gets incredibly tiresome, and which I think has become amplified as writing becomes more and more centered in academia, is this tendency to treat poetry as though it, by necessity, reflects either a righteous or insufficient worldview/ideology.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

Oh, sorry, the last sentence there was supposed to fit with the one above in the "about" being what some want to make of it. I hit enter before I finished, unfortunately.

I agree, though, that as poetry comes to exist exclusively as an academic practice, there is a sense that it "ought" to be doing certain things. I took a class this past fall called "What Else Can Poetry Do?" and the whole while I was wondering what it was supposed to be doing in the first place!

I have had this concern since I first started down this way: if academia is about labelling and categorizing, isn't that exactly what will happen to poetry, painting, film, etc.? And how is one to overcome these obstacles and still get their poetry/art/film out there if they're outside of academia? If you're within academia, what can you do to keep yourself out of these traps?

By the by, my friend's brother is going to Seoul to tutor English, I believe. I don't think it's a program but rather a job. Something like that.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Max said...

I think that academia has become a popular route for post-graduate creative writers because they're following the economic signs. What do they want to do? They want to write. Well, if there are jobs out there for people to teach writing, and those jobs require post-graduate degrees in writing for the most part, then a lot of aspiring people are going to follow that path.

I think that, as it becomes harder to actually secure jobs in this field (more books/higher degrees become standard requirements), people are going to filter out of writing programs and that little economy is going to crash. It seems like there's definitely an "MFA bubble" going on at the moment, and I get the distinct feeling it's going to pop in the near future.

I don't have anything against MFA programs. I actually learned quite a bit about where I wanted to go creatively, and also about what I wanted to do with myself from a professional perspective. I don't regret having gone through a program.

That said, I really hate the implications of creative writing being locked up in universities. There is so much focus on careerism, "research," etc. and this all seems to result in the creation of academic and intellectual swindles, little illusions that keep all the serious academics convinced that creative writing is a legitimate "field of study." I mean, after the first year of my MFA, once the giddiness had washed away, I constantly felt as though I was involved in a really big pyramid scheme or something. The classes I took were great! But at the same time, I felt like I was still part of this aspirational system, where everybody is kind of on the treadmill, working toward the formation of a profile, of an identity that will sustain them within the new system of patronage.

And that's become my major disappointment about the writing community at large in the US. It's about identity for the most part. It's about who you know, who you schmooze with at AWP and elsewhere. As in big business, it's networking that gets you noticed and published and awarded, not really what you do with your writing. And that's fine. But what most people don't understand coming into the whole MFA thing is that, when it comes to securing those highly sought after tenure-track university gigs, the best salespeople are the only ones who get them. So if you're not able to put on a face that says "I'm 100% a-okay with how this all works!" and self-promote/network your way to the top, you stand very little chance of getting anywhere in this particular professional sphere.

I have friends who've made the leap, basically told themselves, "hey, I'm gonna do what I have to in order to succeed, and once I have success, I can go back to normal," but my fear is that if I did that, there would be no going back. Which is why I'm divesting entirely from academia and using my native language knowledge to make a living in cool, new places around the world.

11:40 AM  

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