Tuesday, December 26, 2006

"Other" (again)

I left a brief and probably incomprehensible comment on Josh Corey's blog a couple of weeks ago and I meant to write in more detail here, but things got in the way, and things are still in the way. So I'll be brief.

Josh expressed some ambivalence about the claim that the anti-absorptive text somehow teaches the reader to be more in tune with otherness.

Ultimately this argument seems to harken back to Keats "negative capability," which in many ways has been a dominant aesthetic in America over several decades - poetry that teaches us to allow for doubt and ambiguity (it entails a pervasive aesthetic - the reason why so many "experimental" poets of today write Keatsian poetry with a few nods toward pomo cosmetics).

Rather than using this status quo concept of poetry to teach us to be more receptive to otherness, I think we should do more to introduce texts actually written by "other" people, to create a literature more shot through with various languages and cultures.

And I don't mean the poets that are dressed in cliches to "perform otherness" (I was an undergrad in the "multi-cultural" nineties and we never read Will Alexander in class... Well, except in Maria Damon's classes).

Charles Bernstein, who wrote a famous essay about "absorption" and "anti-absorption" (it was super important to me back in the not-so-multi-cultural nineties) actually visited Notre Dame a few weeks ago, giving a series of interesting talks. Mostly the talks were inspiring, but I did notice that in one talk he spoke about the need to "initiate" students into poetry.

I have railed against this paradigm in the past, and I bring it up now because it speaks to the problem that Josh raised. American poetry still conceives of itself as an enclosed space, and everyone who wants to participate must pay the admission fee.

That separation of poetry is what Jed has called "The American Wax Museum", and what Bakthin called "monoglossia." It is a condition for the idea that negative capability actually has to do with encountering otherness, when it's actually about excluding otherness (or you may say, of *creating* "otherness").


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