Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Jonathan Mayhew has a little post about jazz poetry, a genre I find reprehensible. I know, I supposedly like all things bad, but this is one instance I just can't go for it.

However, what interested me about the post was that Jonathan suggested that "adoration of the Other" is a feature of kitsch. This seems very interesting to me because, as I have written on this blog, I think kitsch as a lot to do with the foreigner: the foreign body is kitschy (fantasies about foreigners tend to involve the kitschiest S&M, the foreigner's body is the stuff of theatrical violence and costumey sex), the way the foreigner is alienated from the Real World is kitschy; basically the foreigner turns the world into kitsch for the natives (turns poetry into wax museums and poems into "vocal prosthesis" or makes them write silly jazz poetry).


Blogger Ross Brighton said...

I would argue that Kitch involves, rather than the adoration, the (attempted) rendering of the Other harmless, ridiculous, depoliticised, as it is appropriated by the Same (if we're talking about Kitch as a manifestation popular cultural production I've just realised while typing this I don't have a concrete definition.....), eg New Wave, Gollywogs, those dashboard hula dancers.....

9:11 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

There is kitsch and there is kitsch, isn't there.

Usually when I talk about kitsch I'm talking about say Kenneth Anger using bikers or Aase Berg using horror movies - that is the use of material that is usually considered "low art" in poems.

This is an example of adoration of something generally viewed as elevated high art (jazz), and the results are awful generally.

However, I think the charge of kitsch is important - what is the threat, what is the danger of kitsch. It almost always seems to be the loss of agency, the loss of Real, the descent into costume, wax museum, prosthesis. And the fact that this comes from the foreign, the foreigner's body, the Exotic Other etc interests me immensly.


6:06 AM  
Blogger mark wallace said...

An interesting question is when, for some people, jazz became "high art." The answer is probably the sixties, when its status changed in the aftermath of The Beatles, a change that was beginning to be signaled in the rock and roll of the fifties.

Of course, to characterize jazz as either "low art" or "high art" without recognizing its much more essential significance as African American music is to (still) misunderstand it.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


To characterize anything as high or low art is of course to misunderstand it (or to view it from a very dull perspective) if that's the end of the discussion. But it does create a different dynamic than the one I've usually described. And I also think that Jonathan's comment about the kitschiness of the Other is insightful.


4:56 PM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

regardless of whether one does or doesn't characterise something as High or Low, the fact that others do creates a system of power and privledge, the investigation/interrogation of which I think is the point of such a discussion. I've been thinking a lot about this in terms of the Reines paper I'm writing, and how, in THE COW, she weaponises both the confessional mode and langpo tropes, coupled with juvinilia ("I want to be part of something because my life is so stupid", "CROTCH", ending a poem with "The End"). The flip side of this kind of work is self-conciously High Art that draws on pop-culture as a means of purchasing authenticity.....

5:09 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Actually Mark and I had a discussion about just this element about The Cow over at I think Lorraine's blog many months ago. I can't remember if we came to any huge conclusions...


5:17 PM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

Damn. I though I was being original (hows that for traditionalism?)
Could you send me the link, if you can find it?

5:37 PM  
Blogger mark wallace said...

I guess what I'm getting at is that in the time period that Jonathan was discussing, the adoration definitely would not have been towards the notion of jazz as "high art." It would have been fetishizing its coolness, its hipster quality, its blackness, its urbanity, its muscularity, and its association with a free, anti-bourgeois lifestyle. Even the radical 60s avant jazz was not thought of as high art just yet--but jazz in general began to have that meaning attached to it because its popularity was in retreat. So I'm wondering how to fit your argument about kitsch into that picture.

6:00 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I guess I was referring to jazz poetry in the present tense.

Certainly with the beats and Mailer's argument about the hipster as "white negro" etc, the jazz poetry fits in easier with my previous models - black culture as a kind of foreign culture etc.

Though I can't say I know enough about the reception of jazz to venture much further.


6:24 PM  
Blogger mark wallace said...

Yeah, I think so, but it's also interesting how mutable some of these phrases are. 40s and 50s jazz hipsters associate themselves with the real, the authentic, the manly/masculine, and African American culture, while a few years later, the so-called beatnik (a putdown from outside, unlike the term beat) will associate more or less a similar group of people with the faddish and unmanly. So the hipster in that context considers himself real and the bourgeois false, and the bourgeois reverses the terms.

Gotta be aware of the pitfalls of this kind of pure binary reversal, wouldn't you say?

8:43 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Yes, Mark, what I am interested in is what the anti-kitsch rhetoric tries to foreclose, and the ideology of that rhetoric.

Clearly the Beats is one of themost interesting subject mattersfor this kind of investigation since they have been deemed kitsch from all kinds of directions, and why I keep bringing up Donald Revell's characterization of them as "zoo animals in the cage of capitalism" (while Pound is a sage in his literal cage in Italy). Also, they were pretty gay, which makes the whole notion of "real" more complex.

But I have never said that there is somethign inherently good about kitsch. Clearly I'm not a hipster; I'm interested i how the anti-hipster rhetoric is deployed to make "unreal" some poetry (such as the poetry of manifestos or small publishing etc).


9:10 AM  
Blogger Ross Brighton said...

It's wierd - I've always associated Jazz in poetry with (aside from the beats) poeple like Clark Coolidge (Jed's connection between his work and the post-bop of Monk, Taylor, Coleman etc works quite well I think) and Nate Mackey.

The connection between the 'real' and Jazz is, I think, more complex (I'm thinking of Mark's comment here) - I mean, Just look at Sun Ra!

And Johannes - I'm intereseted - how does homosexuality compicate the notion of the 'real?

7:29 PM  

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