Saturday, June 23, 2007

Community (Susan Schultz)

Here's a quote from Susan Schultz's book A Poetics of Impasse:

The gathering of tribes, coalitions, communities, draws/Much critical attention.../... /... Such communities organize themselves around common/Concerns: these are communities of avant-garde writers, mainly men,/Who discover themselves as audiences for each other, then aim/To create larger (if not large) audiences for their work through/The formation of journals or small presses and in academic/Circles coalescing until recently around figures/Like Charles Bernstein and Susan Howe at Buffalo./Community, following this definition, is at once coherent/And oppositional; poets form allegiences almost as if/They were gated communities (not necessarily plush ones)/To maintain distinct border between their own practices/As poets and those of writers they perceive as unlike/Themselves. What I propose is a different definition of/Community, less defined and probably more fictive/Than those described in the books I've mentioned./Rather than a community of same, I want do describe/A community of difference. In Hawai'i/For example, there are communities of Hawaiian writers,/Local Asian writers, and white writers; these communities are fluid,/Can be redefined as occasion permits, morophing into communities/Of Gen-X writers.../.../What is still missing is a sense of community not as poets/Who thrive on their desire to create the same kinds of work,/But as poets who learn from the practice of poets very/ Different from themselves..."


Blogger Unknown said...

What is the purpose of such a community--to write poetry with a greater degree of heterogenous language? What, exactly, is gained by valorizing this? I'm not sure how contemporary poetry can be imbued with 'difference' any more than it already is.

A community without a border is no longer a community. Communities of poets won't be decentralized and egalitarian until the conditions and modes of production that allow them to exist in the first place are changed. How much longer will we swallow these airy, 'fictive' utopian propositions. I for one am about to vomit.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


This is a strange comment to leave. Do you really think I feel inclined to discuss something with someone who writes that they want to vomit? Very strange way of engaging in a discussion.

The idea that you're going to change to "modes of production" seem much more fictive and airy to me. Instead of vomiting you may want to propose how you would change the mode of production etc.

In addition, I think the idea that "the modes of production" is the only thing that will decentralize etc sounds like reductive marxism - the idea that art is a mere reflection of the mode of production.

Susan seems to me to call for something quite concrete and not very airy at all - I think Tinfish, her journal, is a good example of this. She wants communities to be engaged with the politics of language and culture.

It's a "fictive" idea because she's not coming to some easy answers, she wants to maintain a tension between difference and community (while your answer seems to simplistically arrive at a very deterministic "change the modes of production" - drum-roll please)

As for community/not community, I think you simplify her stand. She's not saying there will be no "borders" - clearly the very fact of a community suggest that there must be some border. What she wants to do is imagine different borders. Not all borders were created equal. Again, she wants to maintain an interesting tension between community and flux - not to give in to some utopian dream of either (the arts and crafts village or "the global village").

The concept of community has become so glorified - and yes, utopian - in contemporary poetry. Everybody loves the fact that they have their own little community, as if this would establish some kind of unalienated art. That kind of talk annoys me. At best it's naive and insular, at its worst it becomes racist, xenophobic etc. What Susan does in this essay is to open up the discussions about community. Much needed.

3:37 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Also, Tinfish is all about the mode of production - recycling, hand-making, explicitly concerning herself with work by marginalized groups and works in translation from Asia.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Well, I didn't expect such a substantive response to my temper tantrum, no.

I see this manifesto, if you call it that, yet another attempt to subsume actual political praxis under the occupation of poetry as well as fairly cliched postmodern ideas of difference. Such a proposition completely ignores the social and economic structures that allow people to assume the mantle of 'poet' in the first place and substitutes communities that 'can be defined as occasion permits.' What does that last phrase even mean? That we can somehow re-construct the racial makeup of a particular group and not ignore that say, there may be a lot of Koreans in Southern California or Hawai'i because one, those places are more geographically proximate to Korea compared to other places in the US, and because many Koreans may have moved there after the US invaded? Can African-Americans 'morph' into white communities and vice versa without addressing the material conditions that brought them there?

It might be nice for poets to learn from the practices of poets very different from them, but in a sense, this is already happening in MFA programs that bring disaffected middle-class kids of different genders, sexual orientations and ethnic backgrounds together to accomplish effectively nothing politically.

I don't think art is simply a 'mere reflection' of modes of production, but economic modes and circumstances and the ideologies they engender do produce or are that which art puts-into-scene, moreso than the other way around.

Not to mention that there's a fucking war going on, there are plenty of other things that need attention before we should be dabbling around with discrete poetry communities. Manifestoes like this are a huge part of the reason why I can't bring myself to write poetry anymore or bother with the endless masturbation of poetics.

It's great that Tinfish is working with marginalized groups. But this is not enough. To be able to write poetry is a luxury and not substantial political opposition.

6:43 PM  

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