Sunday, August 31, 2008

Anger Interview

Here's one of the most interesting/inspiring clips I've seen in a long time, an interview with Kenneth Anger (the voice-over is in French, but the interview is in English):

The Cocteau story makes an incredible amount of sense.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Matthew Barney

Sometimes I think Matthew Barney is Joseph Beuys + a lot of money. Other times I think it's totally brilliant. This is like a royal mask or something (except about testicles).

Reading in San Francisco

Hi everyone the next Studio One reading is coming up
Friday September 5th 7:30pm
Join us for readings and music by William Moor, music from the no's, and Daphne Gottlieb.

William's work has appeared in, sorry for snake, WORK, and various email inboxes throughout the world. An Arizona native, he moved to the Bay Area in 2003 in order to escape the oppressive summer heat.

Music from "no's" with Ryan Parks and Erika Pipkin on myspace.

San Francisco-based Performance Poet Daphne Gottlieb stitches together the ivory tower and the gutter just using her tongue. She is the editor of Fucking Daphne: Mostly True Stories and Fictions and Homewrecker: An Adultery Reader, as well as the author of the poetry books Kissing Dead Girls,Final Girl (Winner of the Audre Lorde Award), Why Things Burn (Winner of the Firecracker Alternative Book Award) and Pelt, as well as the graphic novel Jokes and the Unconscious with artist Diane DiMassa. She received her MFA from Mills College.

Studio One Art Center is near MacArthur Bart
365 45th Street
Oakland, CA 94609
All Readings start at 7:30pm

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Close reading, distraction and Parland

I thought I would give some example of poetry that is shallow, that does not want to create a deep, contemplative space for reading.

* I was fairly ambivalent in the "close reading' post about the use of "New Criticism." To some extent I think Max and Kasey are right in that NC has become a kind of "bogeyman" (I love that word) for a whole bunch of stuff, some of which they are not to blame. To a large extent, what I mean by "close reading" has more in fact to do with a nameless type of reading that is influenced by the New Critics, but which also harkens back to a kind of pre-NC humanist interpretive model. And the model is not so much a "close" but a "deep" reading. And that's why I mentioned Benjamin's famous article.

* The poem creates a contemplative experience which will save us from the shallowness of mass culture.

* Mark Halliday's article about Clover-Totality shows makes the argument that that contemplative space is privileged as "real." A father's death described in a deep, contemplative way is "real," but the lettrist jacket is not. The clothes don't make the man. The jacket distracts us (no wonder, it's a lettrist jacket full of letters).

* I think that's an inevitable result of a reading style that does not make sense when applied to shallow poetry, whether Clover or say O'Hara, and why all reviewers seem to want to rescue O'Hara's "gems" from the excess and shallowness of the other poems of the complete poems.

* Again: like "lazy," "shallow" isn't negative to me; it shoves us into the city.

* Henry Parland on this issue:

what do you know about legs?
you who think about skirts
when you pass the windows of the department store.
What do you know
about the legs
of the twentieth century?

* I like this poem because it begins by setting us up for a poem that espouses the real and authentic (as opposed to the fakeness of the department store windows). But instead of "what do you know about the real, pulsing body" we get the severed, reified "legs of the twentieth century," an advertising slogan; we get the severed legs of the mannequin, the readymade.

* Also: Charles North's argument that cinema made the entire world art, giving rise to the logic of the readymade. The legs of the twentieth century are already readymades.

* Parland again:

I thought:
it was a human being,
but it was her clothes,
and I didn't know
that that's the same thing
and that clothes can be very beautiful.

* Like Van Hoddis confession (see post below), Parland's poetry (and some of Clover's Totality book for that matter) feature speakers who are "horny and yawning" - as if constantly in that distracted, charged up state of early cinema:

The Big Morningafter:
when stars burp
and all the archangels drink mineral water
we will gather at the cafe'
to the melodies of women's legs.

* An interesting thing about the kind of "deep reading" is that it seems more capable of dealing with too much than not enough. Keats or Donne (who were both considered in past times clumsy and overdone) can be made right, but not Parland who doesn't give enough.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


I watched this movie about the font "Helvetica." Good entertainment. Lots of parallels to poetry. The weird dream of a font that is transparent.

Anyway, here's a great (as in unintentionally insightful) by Massimo Vignelli, the guy who designed the NYC subway signs and maps:

"The life of a designer is a life of fight. Fight against the ugliness. Just like doctor fights against disease. For us, the visual disease is what we have around and what we try to do is to cure it somehow, with design."

The Widow Party

You can see Jacob Knabb as Jimmy Stewart ("the host"), Patrick Durgin as Britney Spears," Jen Karmin as the Black Widow, Patrick as the Scholar and Joyelle and Jen as Hanney Oakley and Annie Weiner.

Also, I don't know who made this film, but I have constantly reminded people that I didn't write this myself. All the collaborators collaborated.

I think I posted this before, but what the hell, here it is again.

I fought the law and the law won.


"Total Art"

I noticed in the SPD catalog that somebody has written a book calling for "total art." Based on the description, it sounds like the author (I tried to find it on the SPD website just now but I couldn't, sorry) is primarily interested in the intermedia aspects of total art and its relationship to 20th century avant-gardism.

Rather than the knee-jerk active-vs-passive paradigm of a lot of thinking about performances, I like Steven Shaviro's argument for a radical passivity in his book "The Cinematic Body," where he argues for the subversiveness of the masochistic experience of watching film movies (and denounces Laura Mulvey's idea of the gaze). Though I think it's of note that the films he watch tend to be either experimental or B-films, or actually more accurately, a combination of the two: Cronenberg, Lynch, Warhol.

Throughout the twentieth century, various avant-garde movements were very interested in the bodies of the spectators and artist and art's manipulation of those bodies (and, not infrequently, the conflation of those two bodies). Marinetti's variety theater with its insults to the audience (and gum on the seat etc), Hugo Ball being carried around in Cabaret Voltaire, Artaud's ritual involvement of the audience in his theater of cruelty (though the cruelty is mostly to Artaud himself, based on the precision of the movements). Etc.

However, I don't think it's Wagnerian (which is what I take as "total art"). Wagner's big idea was to change the very physical seating of the opera so that the spectator's were forced to look at the show and could not babble to each other. I think that's an interesting model to think about. The body has to be molded for ultimate attention, in other words.

Jonathan Crary has written a couple of interesting book that detail how "attention" was an important issue in the 19th century - "distraction" was even turned into a mental illness, for if people would not pay attention to the right things they might turn into criminals. (Severely reductive summary)

And of couse, Benjamin writes about the "distraction" of the Dada aesthetics, based on the cinematic experience. Or as Tomas Elsaesser writes in "Dada/Cinema?": "a reaction to, as well as an exploitation of the tyranny of total vision."

This may seem a paradox. We tend to think of film in Wagnerian terms as a total art that overwhelms people as they sit in that little black lodge known as the theater. However, it's important to historize the cinematic experience (and this is where Shaviro's interest in B-movies makes sense to me). In Elsaesser's article, he argues that Dada was mainly involved in the cinematic experience before it became so glamorous and spectacular, which he describes like this:

"In a typical program, say in Berlin in 1913 (but surviving in the suburbs well into the early 1920s), non-narrative films would be mixed with sketches and fantasies. The Kaiser (or Hindenburg) would be shown on parade right after a filmed variety number. The items would be introduced, a lecturer would stand at the back of the room or hall and comment sarcastically or pathetically on the action, explain, or provide the kind of epic distance that Brecht, copying from the cinema" tried to create in his theater. There was little sense of "illusionism" or any suspension of disbelief. Skepticism and sarcasm mingled freely with wonder and amazement." (18)

Elsaesser also includes the following fascinating description of the cinematic experience by Van Hoddis:

"The room is darkened. Suddenly the Ganges floats into view, palms, the temple of the Brahmins appear. A silent family drama rages with bon vivants, a masquerade - a gun is pulled. Jealousy inflamed. Mr Piefke duels headlessly and they show us, step by step, mountaineers climbing the steep, demanding paths. The pathslead down through forests, they twist and climb the threatening cliff. The view into the depths is enlivened by cows and potatoes. And into the darkened room - into my very eye - flutters that, that... oh, dreadful! One after the other! Then the arc lamp hissingly announces the end, lights! And we push ourselves into the open... horny and yawning."

I think you can see in this quote how montage-like the entire experience was - how distracting that must have been at the same time as it is enveloping. I also love the dichotomy of "horny and yawning" (something I might just write another entry about if I have time this morning). Elsasser makes the point that the film is only part of the cinematic experience and that had not yet been hierarchized into later film experience. Or as Pascal Bonitzer argues, this early cinema included the "excrement of vaudeville."

Elsasser goes on to discuss Picabia's spectacle "Relache" (which was put on in the mid 20s) and its halftime film "Entr'acte" (which is definitely one of my favorite films of all time, everybody should watch it). His view is that Dada art - not film - is about calling attention to the cuts, the montage, rather than - as in later film - cover them up. In other words, Dada wants to distract, rather than invite contemplation.

Benjamin: "Let us compare the screen on which a film unfolds with the canvas of a painting. The painting invites the spectator to contemplation; before it the spectator can abandon himself to his associations. Before the movei frame he cannot do so. No sooner has his eye grasped a scene than it i alaready changed. It cannot be arrested..."

George Baker (his book about Picabia, "The Artwork Caught by the Tail") adds a nuance to the old distraction-vs-attention angle: "ONe imagines too that cinema served Dada not only in imagining the transition from art object to event, but also as a mode that introduced symbolic possibilities far removed from the stable economies of painting or sculpture, with the cinema as an "assembly" of media that rejected the singular at its foundation, and that supported wholly new modes of the circulation of the sign."

For Baker, it's not all about negation, but of creating connections and linkages. And like Shaviro, he brings Deleuze's analysis of film as becoming into his discussion.

But here's my favorite part of Baker's book, his analysis of Relache, and my main point (sorry about the length, but I think it's a good discussion of avant-gardism vs total art):

"Picabia's project for the Swedish Ballet has been called a venture that "veered more closely towards the Wagnerian concept of the Gesamtkunstver than had any previous performance." Art history seems to concur with this view, and when it treats Relache and Entr'acte at all, it has usually been as later inheritors of the notion of a "total" work of art. The project was long banished from modernism's critical story for precisely this reason, the ballet's utter (indeed comical) rejection of the modernist imperative of medium specificity. Without the specter of the Gesamtkunstwerk, no one seems to know what to do with Relache. And yet relache is hardly the belated progeny of one of the most fraught dreams of the nineteenth century. For Relache and Entr'acte are anythign but a Gesumtkunstwerk.

"Forms, mediums - even objects and beings - come together in Relache and Entr'acte. Connection and relation are surely at stake. But the mediums come togehter precisely not to unite, to become One, to become newly Total. Rather they split each other apart. They interrupt each other's limits, in order to be rendered, quite precisely, multiple. Forms come together in Picabia's project to break each other open. They consolidate nothing. Instead, they undo each other's medium conventions, disrupting what we might call the Law that each form excludes in order to define its operation...


"But to split forms in this way (like the split but communicating zones of Duchamp's Large Glass), to undo each form at the limit where it touches another is also to expand them. We might in fact assert tht this confrontation with loss is the onlyu way in which forms can be expanded - as opposed to what occurs in the Gesamtkunstwerk model, a totalitarian procedure. This instead is a transgressive model of medium-belonging, a "belonging" that amounts in fact to a dispossession. Each medium works "in concert" not to fuse but to frustrate the other. Each is exposed to its inadequacy, its limit, producing a scene of proliferating fragments, with no claim to totality at all..."


"And references to or figures of both the "popular" and bourgeois classes commingle throughout, but not to produce the overarching terror of the People, once envisioned as the highest mission of the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk. The "popular" will be referenced throughout, but without giving rise to an expression of the "People" - admixture without commonality, without universality, bereft of the standard or law."

Sorry to go on quoting this but i think it's very insightful.

Anyways, these are some of the ideas that have occupied my mind for some time, finding expression in for example "The Widow Party", the "spectacle" I co-wrote and performed with a great bunch of collaborators at Links Hall in Chicago last May, and a manuscript I just finished which is a pageant ("Entrance to a pageant in which we all begin to intricate" it's called) and which I'm using in large part for my dissertation (the quotes above can also all be found in my dissertation).

Clearly these ideas are ideas in progress so I welcome any response.

And finally: I began this entry by talking about a book I can't remember the title of, but clearly I haven't read that book. The description of it was merely the occasion for this breezy chat. So clearly I'm not criticizing the author of that book.

And finally: I wrote a review of Baker's book for Raintaxi some time last winter/spring, in case you feel like reading that. Though of course the book would be the best place to go.

Saarikoski Review

Mike Peverett has written a very interesting and wide-ranging review of Pentti Saarikoski's "The Edge of Europe" here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


It is strange that so many people have bothered to link to my Iowa story from a while back, which really I felt was basically a brief response to Mark's question about what I learned in Iowa.

Here is a response by Suburban Ecstacies.

Seth is in Iowa currently so his experience will be different from mine (I was there 1998-2000). I'm sure it has changed in some ways. Cole Swensen is a very different person than Jorie Graham, and this may have changed what Seth calls "the culture" of the place. However, Jim Galvin and Mark Levine (who was Jorie's student and who Jorie picked fr a contest, hired etc) are still there, so I can't imagine it's entirely different.

More importantly, every school, every program has a "culture", which is more or less consciously determined by the faculty and administrators. There can never be an "absence of culture."That's ridiculous.

This "culture" is formed through the teaching style (in Iowa very Prof-centric), what classes are offered, who is accepted to the program, how texts are taught, the prominence of "contests", and perhaps as importantly the whole framework for classes and financial aid etc, which in Iowa is set up to fuel competition and ass-kissing (some people get the reward of getting to teach Creative Writing and get more money etc).

Some of the very "defenses" Seth trots out - there are few requirements, people can pick from a "variety" of teachers (see our discussion about the Jorie Graham canon for the problems with "variety") - are in fact part of the ethos. For example, the lack of class requirements is part of a Romantic "cult of the genius" approach to art. "You don't need to study a bunch, just write."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

With Deer

The press Black Ocean is going to publish my translation of Aase Berg's entire first book With Deer.

This is the Black Ocean web site:

It was actually Ron Klassnik's idea. He wrote to me after I had written about his book on this blog.

Here are some poems from that book:

Three poems that originally appeared in Conduit.

Three poems that were originally published in La Petite Zine.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Joshua Harmon

One of the books I'm teaching in my advanced fiction class this semester is Joshua Harmon's novel "Quinnehtukqut." It's a really interesting book. A kind of murder mystery. But instead of having the plot reveal the mystery, the reader has to pick out what happened from the scrambled story. In this it's a bit like the first part of The Sound and the Fury, which I am also teaching. Anyway, I deeply recommend this book.


I had just finished the entry below and I picked up "Antonin Artaud: Writing Bodies" by Adrian Morfee. In her intro she basically calls for a close reading of Artaud's poetry, arguing that Derrida and others have covered over the complexities and irregularities of his poetry with their more sweeping, philosophical interpretations. So I thought I'd mention how close reading can be seen as a way not to normalize and make organic but to call attention to the ways in which texts do not fit these models.

I just thought I'd mention this as a good citizen.

Close Reading

There were many good points made in response to my post about re-reading and close reading.

The first thing I want to say is that with close-reading I both do and do not mean something more specific than a lot of the commentators. I tend to see it as a New Critical model: the idea of a delineated text (usually a single poem, a single novel etc) which works more or less organically (every piece plays a part, no noise in art, by "reading" we uncover how the parts work together).

According to this model, Zizek is not doing close readings. He tends to find bits and pieces from various texts and string them together to show his Hegelian-Lacanian theories. In the process he uncovers great "readings" of texts (Lynch, Hitchcock etc), but the texts are part of the Symbolic Order, not an organic and enclosed work.

But I must admit that sometimes "close reading" also means something wider to me - something like a hermeneutic attitude towards art.

Key point (from Mark Wallace): "In other words we all know why the re-readable text is considered valuable; its nuances etc etc lead to new pleasures and insights. But how do we value texts that don't work that way? As concept? In performance? If we like them, what is it about them that we like? Those issues aren't talked about as much and so answers to them don't always leap immediately to hand."

This largely sums up my feelings. The close-reading leads to a pressure on literary techniques in an autonomous text (usually a single poem and I think that's important). Based on this obsessive close reading of texts, you get writers who emphasize these techniques, who try to create a reading experience that will involve re-reading, inexhaustablility being a goal.

A lot of the stuff I read is by and about Dada and this kind of art really shows the limitations of the close-reading model. Benjamin was very early on a very astute reader of Dada, seeing in their work something of the "distraction" of modernity, and a tactile, "ballistic" aesthetic. And in his split between distraction and "contemplative space" I think we get something of the problem of close readings (in fact Reginald Shepherd totally misread Benjamin for his own purposes a while back, finding in Benjamin a call to return to the bourgeoise contemplative space).

Having finished my paper on Aase Berg's "Antibody" and the Welfare State's Body, I am now turning to a couple of papers I'm supposed to write about Finland Swedish Dadaist Henry Parland. You can do close-readings of his work (the imagery is occasionally quite intricate), but I am trying to use the model of ready-mades and translations to develop a more distracted reading of this self-consciously "disposable book" (about the "clearance sale" of western culture). Parland doesn't aim for re-readability or nuance (similar in some ways to Warhol in the 50s and 60s).

Another point that Dada makes: if you look at a lot of the writing of the Zurich Dada, it looks kind of incomprehensible or lacking. But it was part of an "event": Huelsenbeck playing "jazz" on his tin drum while reciting his fantastic prayers, Hugo Ball wearing a magic bishop outfit while reciting his poems, or perhaps more fundamentally, an aesthetic so engaged with its time and place. A close reading of any isolated text is not going to do us any good. This "writing" asks us to do a different sort of reading.

Perhaps the best example: the limitations of Katherine Hayles's book on electronic writing (see my entry below some time ago). Her close reading of electronic text allows her basically only to see innovation in programming - programs that do different things with texts, narrative etc. It does not allow her to see what I think of as a much more lively and radical innovation - Tao Lin's strangely rhizomatic blog, which has built up a quite sizeable community of participants, and to which his books (such as the one I published) seem like traces or relics.

I could go on and on about texts that don't make sense in a close-reading paradigm. Perhaps the most obvious is Artaud with his rants (or his early anti-language, pro-body aesthetic of cruelty). Any text that seeks to provoke, ritualize or offend, rather than craft a poetic experience, will usually not make sense in close-readings.

"The Real"

Ted Burke makes a good point below that bears repeating: In the Lacanian model, "the real" cannot be captured in words. It is that which cannot be absorbed by the Symbolic Order. "The traumatic kernel" that needs to be covered over with fantasies.

And yet I've seen a lot of people using the idea of the real to describe their favorite poets. It feels like these poets capture "the real." I think this is probably just a fantasy of the de-ideologicalized moment, a very traditional notion of the lyrical moment. In some ways it seems to be a fantasy that in fact makes "the real" less terrible, makes it nice and pretty.

If we say something is "real" then it doesn't have to do anything else. It's just real. Of course, there's a lot of politics involved in claiming anything as real. The thing that perhaps most annoyed me about the Mark Halliday article was this idea that he knew what was real and Clover was not concerned with real-ness.

This is an argument gets repeated over and over: That somehow "quietist" poetry is "real" and "experimental" poetry is somehow superfluous.

I never understood those quietist narratives about fishing with one's dad or grampa. They never struck me as real!

Now this may be because when I was a kid my dad was in jail in Poland and/or helping the Croatian underground overthrow Tito, or quite simply because we certainly never went fishing. Or because my grampa probably said about 3 sentences to me his whole life - when he died I took his Strindberg library from 1908 and a suit (because my grampa was the most stylish person I've ever met) - was that "real" or was that too close to that awful "lettrist jacket"?

The quietist lyric always struck me as extremely strange and posed. And that feeling has been reinforced by most of my pedagogical encounters with this stance: it's all about reigning in and controlling, all about a strange fear of excess (usually coming from images or extravagant language that is not "earned"), about trying to control what is "real."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Rabbit Light

Here I am reading something. I don't know what because I get too embarrassed to view myself, especially reading.

Monday, August 18, 2008

John McCain (II)

is getting more and more repulsive by the second.

Or should I say "scary"? I watched part of the "debate" at that mega-church (did you say homefield advantage?) and I think he's a very scary candidate. He seems to see all issues in terms of a ludicrous macho/military lens without any nuance. Evil has to be defeated; Russia has to be punished etc.

Adding to this impression, there was a good article in the New York Times on Sunday showing that McCain - though he now likes to pretend that he was critical of Bush's war ideas - was the biggest supporter of the Iraq War; he even wanted to open up war against Iran and Syria.

Those of you who are opposed to supporting Obama need to read that article.

In Sunday's Times I also liked - as always - Frank Rich's column, where he revealed that this fellow Corsi who has written the much-hyped bio about Obama, has written articles claiming McCain gets his funding from Al Qaeda and other brilliant instances of "scholarship." I wonder if we'll hear that on Fox News.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Jasper Bernes misreading me

That's a very good post over there on Belladodie by someone brilliant named David. And I think it's really worth reading the entire thing. He says some of the same things I've been saying (though his insights are more articulate and astute) about the position of "Gothic" as feminine and mass culture etc on this blog.

I found Jasper Bernes's following characterization of my ideas erroneous:

"... I wasn't privileging "refinement" over "baseness," merely pointing out that they often exist within each other as within a suspension, and that they shouldn't be seen as pure oppositions, which is too often the way that certain contemporary theorizations of the grotesque cast it (Johannes Gorranson's, for instance). . .It's only a measure of our reified cultural moment that people see these things as opposites."

I don't believe in such a simplistic binary split.

Let me remind you that I criticized Jasper's pal Josh Corey for calling Ariana's poetry "angry nakedness" (and I referred to this out again not so long ago - Jasper reminded me then that I was supposed to be referring to Corey, not Clover, which I had written - meaning he had to have read that post!). My point then was that Josh made a too simple split between refinement and "raw" expression.

If anything I have tried to show how things which may seem to be mere baseness etc are often part of sophisticated artistic strategies. In fact I am almost finished with a paper that does that.

Unless by refinement, you mean "Refinement," dull conventional high culture. Yeah, I've been pretty persistently opposed to that.

Grotesque/Gurlesque - Lennard Davis

Here's an excerpt from Lennard Davis's Enforcing Normalcy that I'm using in the paper I'm currently writing. I thought it may be interesting to throw into the grotesque mix:

Davis argues that the role of art in this age is to cover up “the chaos of the body”: “… the fear of the unwhole baody, of the altered body, is kept at bay by depictions of whole, systematized bodies – the nudes of Western art” (134).

Dodie Bellamy's blog

I should also mention that Bellamy's "Cunt-Ups" is a great instance of grotesque writing in American poetry.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Here's what Joe Massey Learned at Iowa

It's pretty funny.

I'm trying to finish a paper, but I will soon reply to various threads.

I'm absolutely not ironic.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Reply to Kasey

[for some reason I can't reply to threads on my own blog today. This could get messy.]

I don't see why re-reading something is such a die-hard merit. Some works may be read wonderfully once and meant only to be read once. Or even a half time. Not to be combed through. Perhaps not even read at all.

One of the favorite things I ever wrote was this 300+ page poem called The Secessions (it's in a few places La Petite Zine, Coconut etc) but I've never even tried to publish it because part of what I like about it is that it is utterly unreadable, even for myself, and I like for it just to sit like a big batch on the bottom of a barrel in my office.


It was also funny to see Ron wear his humanist heart on his sleeve when he said that Minnis's book did not hold up to several readings. Isn't that the Helen Vendler criteria for good poetry?


Something that I find unsatisfactory about a lot of poetry from all kinds of persuasions: the idea that poetry offers a safe, ethical place outside of ideology, an escape.

I think of Zizek's comparison of Mash and Full Metal Jacket, where the ironic soldier who is critical of the military but nontheless kill is in fact the successfully trained soldier. While the soldier who fully identifies with the horrible superego drill commander kills the commander and himself, and is thus not the successfully trained soldier.

This has something to do with why I like "Chicks dig war" or Chelsea Minnis. There is something horrific about Minnis's over-identified speaker who soullessly buys and kills.

conversion narratives

I was thinking: One thing that bothered me (below) in my discussion with Mark was what I perceived as patronizing remarks about me not knowing language poetry. I was thinking about that today - I think what bothered me about this was the frequent mantra I hear from the langpo/Buffalo crowd that the reason not everyone likes language poetry or is not wholly absorbed in it (I certainly like a lot of the poets associated with langpo, my phd advisor wrote for the original l=a=n=g journal) is that we don't know enough about it. The same thing happened when James Pate wrote that essay for Action, Yes a few months ago. He just didn't know enough.

[Clearly this was not Mark's fault, and I am happy to learn about his favorite lesser-known poets! I overreacted.]

And the conclusion is also that if we knew the whole story we would be won over, change sides, so to speak. This is why I so often hear "conversion narratives" when I hang out with poets - when I saw the light type of stories, when I began to prefer Michael Palmer to Donald Hall etc.

Well, if you read my "autobiographical notes" over the past week or so, it may strike you that I was never really introduced to "Quietist" narratives. I remember when we lived in Alabama, Joel Bruewer, another poetry professor there, thought it was hilarious how little Joyelle knew about "narrative poets" - the James Wright kind of poets. I would say I know more about language poetry than I know about the James Wright school of poetry. I've read several books by Leslie Scalapino (many times over in some cases) but I've never read a book by Donald Hall (I have read individual poems by him but was never interested enough to read a whole book). A lot of contemporary non-lang poets I didn't find out about until I got to Iowa.

This is not to flaunt my ignorance, but to undermine these simple conversion narratives. As in the Jorie Canon, the conversion narrative merely tries to foreclose discussion: you just haven't read enough. And as in the Jorie Canon, the challenge is not language poetry (which in some instances, as I note in my previous post) fits quite nicely (in fact much much nice than someone like Edson, who doesn't fit at all, he'd "Bad James Tate" to invoke Chad's anecdote - Or Ted Berrigan who may fit with Sonnets but not at all with anything else) but someting else, something more like a lyrical way of reading (thus for example, Bernstein can't fit in with the JG Canon because he's too abrasive and - perhaps more importantly - unlyrical, comic, parodic etc).

On the other hand, you run into the narrative from anti-language folks that all lang-types are "brainwashed" cyborgs. That's for example what the people on foetry were saying, and when I tried to suggest they were being simplistic they went all rabidly moronic on me (interesting how the "open forum" of foetry became such an impossible place to have intelligent discussion!). Clearly this narrative is pretty stupid and doesn't merit any more discussion.

Friday, August 08, 2008

What did I learn in Iowa?

Mark wants to know what I learned in Iowa. Well here is a bullet point:

- For one I found out who a lot of contemporary poets were. A lot of people liked James Tate, Bill Knott, Theresa Cha and Josh Clover for example. I had never heard of these guys. A lot of folks loved Clover's first book. Jorie really pushed him, but mostly I found out about poets from students.

- Most students loved Ashbery and Michael Palmer (I did know them). It was unimaginable to most students that someone wouldn't like Ashbery (it was like a memo was sent out, but I didn't get it). He really was considered an old-school Romantic Genius.

- Other folks that were beloved: Gerard M. Hopkins, Donne, Elizabeth Bishop, Dickinson, Keats (I couldn't believe how much people talked about Keats! It was definitely pathological), Susan Howe, Creeley, Berryman (but not Lowell, not Plath), Lyn Hejinian, Mark Strand (ugh!), Stevens (perhaps second only to Ashbery). More or less the Jorie Graham Canon of Poetry. Very trans-historical. "The unofficial reading list" as I called it.

- Nobody read contemporary foreign poetry. Lyn Hejinian was the only person who encouraged me in my translations of Aase Berg (which I had just begun). (Except in the translation program of course, but that was a separate world entirely.)

- Certainly people's knowledge of langpo was narrow: Hejinian, Howe, Palmer and a few others. Bernstein was not in the acceptable canon. He also told me recently he's never been invited to Iowa to read. I think this is of note. For some reason Jorie couldn't recuperate his work for her canon. But she had no trouble with Lyn, even Clark Coolidge fit in (he gave a reading the same day as a Rova concert and a reading by Mark Strand!).

- Only three people showed up for the Alice Notley Q&A. The room was packed when Ashbery and Strand gave theirs.

- But I don't want to sound negative. Perhaps the single most important thing I got from Iowa was the pathological excitement everybody felt for Poetry. It was all anybody talked about. It was all that mattered. People obsessed about each other's poems. People would read the poems from the other workshops (so you'd have strangers walk up to you and say, "your poetry is too visceral" or something like that).

- At its worst this meant back-stabbing, ass-kissing and competitive conflicts - "who's on top" replayed over and over. I think Ben Doyle was most generally considered the best poet in my class (by faculty and students, though the students would of course get their cues from faculty). Sally Keith was considered "hard-working." (Because she was a woman, she couldn't fill the boy-genius role). I was considered "weird" and one of my favorite poets, Mike Savitz was for some reason considered "lazy" even though he wrote more than anybody else. Basically the general opinion was well known, even to someone like me who was an outsiderish member of the community. I heard all these views repeated over and over. I don't know how many times someone asked me, what do you think of Savitz and I would say "I think his poems are brilliant" and the other person would say "yeah, but he's lazy." It was so strange. He could never get away from that label. Joyelle was considered "uppity." (Again, gender mattered.)

- But at its best Iowa was genuinely exciting and inspiring.

- Strange for someone like me coming from New York, but I was reminded of Frank O'Hara. I had lapsed in my O'Hara reading, but I got back on the wagon. In particular I was greatly influenced by a fellow-student O'Hara-phile, Amy Lingafelter. There are some references to her and her poetry in the poems in my first book Quarantine (most prominently "Post Cards" which I wrote in Iowa and which addresses her a few times, she drove a truck and looked like Nathalie Woods). (Both Lingafelter and Savitz are in Jordan's and Sara Manguso's anthology Free Radicals.)

- This led me to read a lot of Ted Berrigan. Together with letters from insane people, my reading of Berrigan was the main influence on Dear Ra, which I began writing as I was leaving Iowa. It may seem strange, but I thought of Dear Ra as my unabashed plagiarism of Bean Spasms. Everybody is always surprised when I tell them I'm a huge Berrigan fan. Maybe he's too American for me.

- Also I got a lot out of knowing James Pate, still the best-read guy I've ever met. He got me into Godard, Lynch and Genet (hard to think about my writing these days at all without those). His favorite move was "The Harder They Come." Great movie. He had a special interest in the Black Panthers.

- However, most people had a very elevated, Romantic idea of poetry. The guiding idea of poetry was that it was elevated language, complex language; the idea that it could be political was for example ridiculous. These folks all loved Clover and Ashbery; and that has undoubtedly colored my perception of Clover and Ashbery.

- Lots of people bantered around the phrase "post-language poet" - as I am a... This means that they - like Jorie - used some of the textures of langpo to recreate high modernism, elegance, high learning - as opposed to Marvin Bell's old-guard poetics of authenticity. "Images" were vulgar and had to be controlled against their natural tendency toward excess; "confessional poetry" was ridiculed; "indeterminacy" was important, but not for reasons of Marxism - but because it was "complex" and thus more "realistic." I remember a debate I got in because someone called something (not mine) "pornographic" because it wasn't complex; I said "but I like pornos."

- In my first workshop (led by Lyn), a lot of the students were furious about my awkward linebreaks because they were disruptive. I kept trying to tell them that I wanted them to be awkward but I couldn't tell them why. Lyn gave me Bernstein's "The artifice of absorption" and this made sense of it for me. Lyn is still the best workshop teacher I've ever had (but strangely I found out later that a lot of the students didn't like the class).

- All in all I was constantly reminded that I was a foreigner. "This sounds like it has been translated" I was often told. "I like what you do, but it's not poetry" I was often told. "Now I'm convinced you're completely insane," cooed Jorie Graham in one workshop (a line frequently repeated when I run into people from that class).

- Economic Class mattered. Lots of ivy-leaguers. Being able to present yourself authoritatively was very important and that's something Ivy leaguers are very good at. Some of them also knew how to write; but some were just fools who knew how to act authoritative.

- It was not by coincidence that my best friends were the few lower class people - Amanda Ash (from the Ozarks, dad was Vietnam vet), James Pate (from the Memphis ghetto, dad was Taco Bell manager) - and Gene Tanta, a Romanian immigrant. None of them knew "how to behave." And were treated accordingly by the powers (ignored, disparaged). Ethan Canin, the fiction teacher, told James he "read too much." In a writing class!

This in short is what I learned in Iowa.

Is translation grotesque?

Yes, quite often the very act of translation is grotesque in the way it de-naturalizes one's concept of poetry.

(Good question)

Repeat - explanation - etc

I just wanted to briefly clarify something about "teams/tribes" and inside/outside:

Something I really like about the historical avant-garde is the proliferation of teams. This comes out of the avant-garde concept - the idea that if you are refused you start your own salon so to speak. I was hypocritical in criticizing Mark's inside/outside paradigm because such proliferations will always have groups.

Like I said in another post, the reason Halliday doesn't supposedly believe in "teams" is that he wants there just to be his team - the institutionalized, monoglossic "tradition."

Not that different from the "English Only" anxiety sweeping the nation.

This incidentally has a lot to do with "ethnic" art and so-called "identity politics." As a guy just noted in an essay I read about the issue, nobody ever said "American" was identity politics.

It is not incidental - as I often note - that the historical avant-garde is largely created by emigrants and exiles. It is often a kind of anti-nationalistic, and pretty much always anti-monoglossic move.

People often confuse Deleuze and Guattari's notion of "minor literature" - either seeing it as just "ethnic literature" or just avant-garde literature (or less popular whatever). But these two things go together. Kafka uses Yiddish to deterritorialize Prague German. Björling similarly writes in a kind of Finland-Swedish throughout his career dismissed as "not Swedish but Björlingish."

At some moments, people try to centralize the avant-garde of this period, create rules, centers etc. For example, in "The New Spirit" Apollinaire disparages Dadaism and Cubo-Futurism, glorifying France (nationalism is often important in centralizing urges - then as now); or Breton tries to arrange a joint congress of progressive art (but, tellingly, fails, unlike various such conferences that now take place).

This is the problem with the cfp I posted below ("true avant-garde") and a lot of Marjorie Perloff's work. They use the term "avant-garde" explicitly (which never happens during the historical avant-garde to create a homogenous "avant-garde." You can see how I feel this is quite contrary to the proliferation impulse.

So in contradiction to some things I wrote yesterday, I am for Mark having his own "team" and I am for him introducing me to poets in that team that I may not have heard of.

P.Inman and Tina Darragh links

Mark Wallace on P. Inman:

Doug Lang on Tina Darragh:

As soon as I get some time I'd like to respond to these, and also to Ben Friedlander's links below. And also to numerous people who have written in with questions about the grotesque and the avant-garde.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


A dictionary begins when it no longer gives the meaning of words, but their tasks. Thus formless is not only an adjective having a given meaning, but a term that serves to bring things down in the world, generally requiring that each thing have its form. What designates has no rights in any sense and gets itself squashed everywhere, like a spider or an earthworm. In fact, for academic men to be happy, the universe would have to take shape. All of philosophy has no other goal: it is a matter of giving a frock coat to what is, a mathematical frock coat. On the other hand, affirming that he universe resembles nothing and is only formless amounts to saying that the universe is something like a spider or spit.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Julie Doxsee announcement

[I like this book. Been meaning to write something about it. I also like Julie's poems in the latest Saltgrass Journal.]

Julie Doxsee’s debut book, Undersleep is available now & to celebrate that she will be giving a series of readings over the next weeks. Doxsee currently lives in Istanbul & will only be in America for a brief time so I hope you can make it to one of the readings!

bio: Born in London, Ontario, Julie Doxsee is a professor of writing and literature at Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey. She is the author of the chapbooks The Knife-Grasses (Octopus Books), and Fog Quartets (horse less press). Forthcoming publications include the book Objects for a Fog Death (Black Ocean) and two chapbooks: You Will Build a City Out of Rags (Whole Coconut) and New Body a Seafloor Body (Seeing Eye Books).

Undersleep is available via paypal at the Octopus Books website:
& at SPD:


I'm so computer-moronic I couldn't even create a page for Action Books. Or I did but I messed it up somehow.

News from Craig Santos Perez


Dear friends,

Exciting News: my first poetry book, from unincorporated territory, is now available for discounted pre-order from Tinfish Press (!!! The book weighs in at about 100 pages and is beautifully designed by Sumet (Ben) Viwatmanitsakul.

The book will retail for $15; Tinfish is offering a pre-publication price of $10 until September 1. You can pay via their website (, under "purchase" and number 54, which is my book, as it's listed on the page.

If you do not want to use the website, please send checks to Tinfish Press, 47-728 Hui Kelu Street #9, Kane`ohe, HI 96744.

I'll even make you a deal: the first 20 people who order will receive a free chapbook from me. Just email me with your mailing address after you purchase.

Also, I'm in the beginning stages of planning a reading tour in the fall and spring so if you have a reading series please let me know.

I hope you will support Tinfish Press and that you will enjoy the book ;)

Craig Santos Perez

"College" - a brief autobiography

I just wanted to add - it seems I've been very critical of Perloff recently - but I do think she played an important, positive role for me at one point.

Warning: Autobiography.

When I was in college I was in two creative writing classes. In my sophmore year I was in a poetry class taught be a very unusual MFA student (who since quit writing because the teachers and other students at the U of Minnesota constantly ripped on her work), who introduced me to O'Hara, Celan, Simic/Popa, Apollinaire (I still remember her handout of the poem in which A smokes cigarettes from the zone - she'd attached a picture of Peter "Bauhaus" Murphy smoking a cigarette - she was kind of goth - played Sister of Mercy in class...) and others that I hadn't yet encountered. And I wrote constantly during this semester (sophmore year) - like I wouldn't write again until I wrote Dear Ra in the fall of 2000.

The stuff I wrote during that semester got me into the graduate workshop my next year. In that class everybody policed my writing - everything was excessive and wrong. I felt really undermined and uncreative. But it was during this time I was reading a lot of Perloff's books, and that made me understand the dynamics of the workshop in a wider context.

And I made friends with this guy Brian Horihan, a Burroughs fan (my entry to writing was largely through my mom's Beat books and Dylan records from the 1960s, back in 8th grade, so I was onboard)who was Maria Damon's prize-winning pupil. So I got a lot of ideas from him. We went to a Hannah Hoch exhibit at the Walker, if I remember correctly. Also maybe a Jess exhibit. In his apartment he just had a couch, an old snake named Max and a shelf of Burroughs and Ballard and Lovecraft. (Both Maria and I have been trying to track Brian down but it seems he's become an experimental filmmaker in France...).

At the same time I was taking all these graduate seminars in the Scandinavian Dept, including a class on Swedish Modernism by visiting prof Ljung and Finland-Swedish Modernism taught by viisting prof Ziliacus (with whom I am still in contact). And that's when I first read Sodergran, Bjorling, Parland and others. It's also where I first came in contact with Aase's work (Ljung gave me a copy of a journal he edited, which featured I think Aase's first published poems - all later included in "With Deer" - and a cool collage portrait by Rut Hillarp). And these things also allowed me to see the negative workshop environment in a larger context.

I took a lot of English lit classes. A lot of them were with Peter Firchow, a conservative but brilliant Auden scholar (If you like The Orators - a book I love love love - you have to read his incredible essay tracking down all the weird sources). From him I learned to become a very good "close-reader." But the experiences I mentioned above allowed me to contextualize that practice somewhat (which is why I criticized Altieri's insistence on close-reading in my post about the conference in Belgium back in May).

My other favorite prof was Andrew Elfenbein, a genius, openly gay (which intimidated/weirded me out at first - a valuable learning experience), 26-year-old who had just graduated from Yale - in his classes on say Shakespeare and Renaissance poetry we would do all kinds of interesting Foucault stuff with sexual fantasies about Elizabeth etc that also helped broaded my views. Though he was also a very strong close-reader.

OK. Hope you found this somewhat useful in understand my position on the avant-garde, Perloff etc. I don't want to be so negative about her work, which actually meant a lot to me at this time.

Aase Berg

fascinates me in large part because she is not academicky "avant-garde"; rather she forges an aesthetic out of Surrealism/surrealism, B-movies, various traditions of grotesquerie and a very much feminist awareness. This totally does not jive with the now academic American notions of "avant-garde".

It does jive quite well with a lot of the energies of the historical avant-garde, something that is made stronger by the fact that she was indeed for a long time part of a non-academic, political avant-garde group (the Surrealist Group of Stockholm - though importantly left in large part because of the rising militancy of the group, which I think she sees as macho) and, perhaps, by the fact that a couple of seminal members of the Scandinavian historical avant-garde (the Estonian refugee Ilmar Laaban, who introduced Fahlstrom to Artaud and Michaux in the early 1950s, and Rut Hillarp) took personal interest in Berg early in her career (extremely late in their careers). And in the case of Hillarp made several cool portraits of Berg (some of which can be found on Berg's books).

I say this not to establish Berg as "the true avant-garde", but to show how narrow our sense of it has become in, say, Perloff's definition of it (which, as I stated a while back, in many ways is the academization of the term, of turning avant-garde into yet another "indeterminacy"/New Critical ambiguity). One large move in contemporary a-g-discussions (evidence: that cfp I cited below) is to make it a contemporary american phenomena and more or less to ignore the historical avant-garde with its pop-culture-interest, its iconophilia-at-the-movies, its excitment/plesure, its grotesqueries etc. For me most importantly: Its heteroglossia, minorness, translatese, "language-grotesque".

That is why - as I stated in the comment field below - i don't want Berg or Reines to be "avant-garde." What they are doing seems to me so much more exciting than such now-academic labels. (I'm also opposed to sex ed).

I am reading Berg's Mork Materia (Dark Matter) closely and it's an amazing book. It ends in a place that seems like a totally blown up version of Plath's "Lady Lazarus" with its shells, echoes and snail like pearls - and use of montage to the point of metamorphosis. For one thign the speaker in Berg is a kind of snail! But importantly, she doesn't comit suicide, she ends with hermaphroditic self-mating.

Here is one of the last poems of the book, "Selfdead":

Small hole in black shell
stick in the thin antennae
suck the snail-flesh out
suck the snail-flesh out of me

Swallows the snail-intestine glistens
sucks the juice out of the polyp
puke up flesh pale and breathes
the flesh is pale and breathes

Slowly the pulse beats in the marrow
Zachris, the fetus-snail breathes
the snail-fetus is born and bleeds,
lies dead and dies and is born

Bend myself a membrane into bow
the nutritional circle is a circle
the mouth-muscle closes around the tip
sucks the last sap, fluid

out of my abandoned self-body

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Tarpaulin Sky

[I've been reading this off and on today. Lots of good things. I especially like Dodie Bellamy's lynching story and the story by Amy Catanzano, who was in my first workshop in Iowa with Lyn Hejinian as teacher. Apparently she teaches at Naropa these days. Everyone in our family read and much enjoyed Bhanu Kapil's "laboratory for monsters" this summer.]


Guest edited by Bhanu Kapil

Featuring new texts by Chris Abani, Dodie Bellamy, Lisa Birman, Melissa
Buzzeo, Amy Catanzano, Amber DiPietra, Dolores Dorantes, Elena Georgiou,
Alan Gilbert, Renee Gladman, Brenda Iijima, Bill Luoma, Laura Mullen,
Michelle Naka Pierce, Deborah Richards, Christine Wertheim, and Hazel White

With cover art by Rohini Kapil, vispo by Catherine Bergvall, a cartoon by
Isaac Currie, art by Susan McCann, and interview with Michelle Naka Pierce,
conducted by M.Perel

Hit it and don't quit:

Follow-up on Halliday, "true avant-garde," teams etc

[Here are some ideas I've been mulling over while taking notes on Aase Berg's epic sci-fi nausea "Dark Matter" and reading about David Lynch.]

- My problem with "the true avant-garde" is that it forecloses discussion about the poetries. So as in a lot of Marjorie Perloff's work ("I am good at picking winners" as she said recently at a conference), it becomes an interest in literary history: Who's next? Just as "indeterminacy" has become another version of Empson's "ambiguity", so "who's next" has replaced the New Critics' game of "who's on top" (Lowell's obsession). It seems to me that Marjorie's play for "conceptual poetry" in many ways is an attempt (by an academic) to retain a sense of center, of literary history at a time when poetry is incredibly proliferate.

- One point that I am thinking about is Aase's "Dark Matter" which is highly visceral and highly visual, both qualities of art that over the past thirty years have become distrusted by a lot of the American "avant-garde" establishment. This would in some way render her un-avant-garde. Which puts us in a strange position: A woman who was for a long time part of a Surrealist group that engaged in militant politics (some of the group are still in jail based on their protests against the EU and globalism)and opposed to literature with capital L, instead engaging mostly in various forms of vandalism, intermedia performances, hallucinatory trances and exercises. By many "true avant-garde" standards, she's not avant-garde.

- Of note is also that this prevailing distrust of the visceral comes out of an American avant-garde that - in difference to Aase - is highly academic.

- I happen to think this distrust of the visceral is a big problem with contemporary "avant-gardism", one that aligns it with much academic poetics. It is deemed "excessive" by both teams in a reductive way. (See my Steven Shapiro notes from May when Josh Corey expressed anxiety about the lack of didacticism in "The Widow Party".)

- The avant-garde is a problematic concept in many ways - the militarism, the linear time model etc. However, there is still useful things about avant-gardism. For one thing, it seems to drive people like Reginald Shepherd into panic. In part I think the scary thing about the avant-garde is that it shows that there are indeed different "teams". Halliday claims he doesn't like teams, but the reason he doesn't like teams is that that means there isn't just one, true way. I think that's what freaks Reginald out as well (afterall he wishes poetry was like chess, with just a couple of master-poets).

- This returns to the problems of a "true avant-garde": it removes the teams by establishing the one-true-poetry, instead of discussing various formations (flarf, gurlesque etc). It may be said to include team-think, but instead of a proliferation it sees two teams (us and them).

- It may seem like I've totally changed my mind about "teams", but I don't think so. I've just changed my definition of teams...

- Clover's book was out at the library so that's why I haven't written a proper follow-up to Halliday's article yet. Clearly I agree with Halliday on some levels about Clover's work - I've said in the past that it always struck me as thoroughly in the tradition of american high modernism (Stevens, Eliot, Ashbery, Auden). But I don't agree with other aspects of the article. However, I feel I have to read the whole book before I make any grave pronouncements. And that may be a while.

- One more thing: there's a good book on Frank O'Hara and "coterie" that speaks insightfully to "teams."

Monday, August 04, 2008

Dear Ra review

Blake Butler has written a review of Dear Ra on his blog.

Apparently I'm Tupac Shakur. That has always been my secret dream.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


I highly recommend Zizek's essay on David Lynch's "Lost Highway" - "The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime."

For one thing as a distinction between the "silliness" I talked about a few days ago and the ridiculous of Lynch (cheesy dialogue about birds bursting all around that manages to be both cliche/ridiculous and scary/affecting).

It begins with some pretty expected observations (that is expected if you've read anything Zizek's written before): The phantasy (second half of film) of virility is in fact more "real"-seeming than the mundane world of marital miscommunication and impotence. And there's stuff about the obscene super-ego-father (Frank or the mafia guy in Lost Highway), an idea that I love.

But the part I really like is when he compares Roberto Benigni's "Life is Beautiful" to the Danish movie "Celebration" and Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan." The conventional way to read these movies is that the father in "Life" is kind but deceiving, keeping the holocaust (the Real World Trauma) from his son; the father in celebration is the monster who hides his brutal reality in a fake narrative that finally gets undone, revealing his true monstrous self; and that Spielberg reveals the brutal reality of war.

But in Zizek's scheme The monster-in-sheep's-clothing-father is the fantasy to cover up the truly strangling father of "Life is Beautiful." Similarly, Spielberg's "real" violence is a fantasy that covers up the truly horrific techno war of the first Gulf War - a fantasy of brutal soldier-vs-soldier combat covers up the war in which the US buried thousands of Iraqi soldiers in trenches and fired smart bombs etc.

What interests me about this is the sense of the catastrophe fantasy that covers up the horrifically unbrutal reality. That is something I've been thinking about today, as I'm writing an essay on Aase Berg's "Dark Matter" and the welfare state. I think "Dark Matter" is the horror-fantasies of the welfare state (about the rest of the world, the news-world, Bosnia, Oil Wars etc) decontextualized and pushed to the point of exhaustion (the book ends with these awkward, hollow lullabyes). As many people have mentioned, Aase's book is a rewrite of Harry Martinsson's canonical modernist epic "Aniara" (Translated by Auden I think). The conventional analysis of "Aniara" is that it's about the horror of the Atomic Age. But I think, reading it back through Aase, that it's about the welfare state. Well, this is a work in progress...

Another thing. Toward the end of the book, Zizek ventures this idea that cyberspace is a great place for the revealing of these fantasies, the fantasmatic real (not the Real-Real that can never be brought into language). Not with the cheesy hypertext, but with "the hub of violence." I apply this to my dislike of "indeterminacy" in current poetry.

More about this later, my daughter is causing trouble.

Saturday, August 02, 2008


I don't have a very idyllic view of American politics, but McCain's campaign has surprised me. I am utterly repulsed by these race-baiting ads. When I first saw the Britney Spears/Paris Hilton ad I thought it was a joke. Of course it isn't. Can't beat Obama on political issues, well just show the black man next to two sexual blondes. And then, when he comments (very subtly) on the incredible race-baiting of the campaign, say that he's "playing the race card." This campaign has become repulsive.

Perhaps even more repulsive are these news shows, like "Hardball" etc, discussing it in terms of "Is this good for the McCain campaign?"

Do these people have no spine? No brain? Due to the Right's absurd claim of a "liberal bias" in the media, I think these folks are scared of coming out and saying: "This is racism. This is disgusting."

By discussing it in terms of "strategy" they are legitimizing the ads and the racism. They might as well have a discussion on whether or not racism is a good campaign strategy (apparently it is). (Well, I'm sure Bill O'Reilly has already come out in favor of racism. I once watched his show when he said it was good that high schoolers beat up gay students.)

I cannot express how disgusted I am with McCain.

Also, what about the immigrant who was beaten to death by some good-old jocks in PA. That story should be part of the discussion. This violence is part of the Republican "base" ideology of xenophobia.

I don't want to ever again hear someone say that my poems are obscene.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Problems with "True Avant-Garde"

[This refers to the cfp in the post below.]

1. I don't usually pick on people cfps - lord knows I struggle doing that kind of stuff - but I feel this cfp exhibits a lot of tendencies in the recent history of the avant-garde that I find deeply problematic.

2. To begin with, "avant-garde" is not a transcendent concept that remains the same throughout time. There is no "true avant-garde"! Loosely speaking it begins with French Romanticism (which is one reason why the "anti-Romantic" notion of the cfp is very reductive in a didactic, Perloffian way) to suggest the way the artists may show the way for the industrialists and scientists towards a utopian society. This inaugurates a certain relationship between poetry and politics that have remained important to the meaning of the phrase. But often it just meant political - for example anarchists in the 19th century referred to themselves as avant-gardes, Lenin did the same. All of this can be read about in Calinscu's "Five Faces of Modernism." I won't bother you with the whole history.

3. A lot of time people refer to "the historical avant-garde" (European artistic movemnents 1909-WWII). But that "the avant-garde" contains a lot of contradictory ideas, sometimes within the same movements, within the same person. The same artists may one day be Dadaist, the next Constructivist, the next Surrealist. Especially when you move away from the centers. (As Pontus Hulten points out in his article on Futurism, the outskirts have often been more dynamic when it comes the avant-gardism than the centers, more susceptible to strange movements and changes.)

4. My main objection to "the truth avant-garde" is therefore the claim that there is one "true" avant-garde. The concept has changed through time and even in the relatively brief period of the historical avant-garde, there were tons of different ideas.

5. But there are other problems with this cfp. It seems people these days in American are very enamored of Burger's theory of the avant-garde. As interesting as that book is, it is seriously flawed. It focuses almost entirely on Duchamp and a small part of Dada for it's definition. It also makes a rather foolish claim of a separation of life and art, which I think a lot of historical avant-gardists would not agree with. In many ways it bears the imprint of its time - Germany, early 70s, and its politics.

6. So we may say like Stan Apps (in the comment field) that Burger's theory is bad and has been raked over the coals and this cfp is poor scholarship. But I think it's worth thinking about why this Burger theory now? I think it comes from a desire to separate life and art in an old-fashioned - even ROMANTIC (!) way - in order to be able to present a poetry that closes the gap. Toto, we are back to an aesthetics of authenticity and "the real."

7. A lot of the artists of the historical avant-garde move away from the auratic, the authentic, the un-translatable, toward the reproduced, the translated. Why try to find "the true avant-garde"? Why try to locate that term in near opposition to the reproduced aesthetics of the historical avant-garde.

8. What else perplexes me about this cpf is that of course that the historical avant-garde took place largely in Europe. So why does the cfp barely mention European avant-gardists? It mentions the cut-ups of Tristan Tzara - well that is a very tiny part of his total output. Most of the historical avant-garde doesn't even exist in translation in the US! How can these guys go around proclaiming true avant-gardes when they have not even begun to read the many poets and journals etc that came out of the historical avant-garde! Are we just going to do away with this era? Foreign lit alltogether? (Unless they're going to talk about foreign mimeograph revolutions, such as the one Per Backstrom will discuss in the next issue of Action, Yes, due out in a week or so.)

9. The cfp dismisses the common associations of a-g with the "groundbreaking, confrontational and even impenetrable" as somehow shallow associations. But the confrontations and the spectacular clashes with bourgeois society was a huge part of the historical avant-garde! To say that it's superficial - like Altieri's comments about Jed's paper at the Gent avant-garde conference (see previous post - is to commit an act of huge revisionism - and, again, perhaps to do away with those pesky Dadaists and Futurists.

10. Is this new "avant-garde" - which includes Wc Williams but not Huelsenbeck! Langpo but not Apollinaire! St Marks but not Henry Parland! which favors "democratic communities" over "confrontation" - a kind of revisionist idea that seeks the expel the "historical avant-garde" and return to some kind of Romantic notion of the relationship between politics and art? (I say "a kind of" because it certainly keeps certain aspects of the historical avant-garde but not others.) All the while, turning it into an American term? Or perhaps, merely to turn it into a term for American poetry of the 60s and 70s (which had previously been referred to as "neo-avant-garde")?

11. I guess the ultimate question is why are we so invested in this term "the avant-garde" and finding a true, stable meaning for it? Especially why that meaning has to be so American.