Monday, September 24, 2007

James' essay, response to Simon D.


You can of course do anything you want, but it's lame not to back it up. So I'm glad you did.

However, this little comment (about Clinton) that sticks out for you is just a small part of the wider argument.

James argues that Spahr proposes a kind of documentary language that will somehow get to the truth, will somehow avoid ideology by being descriptive. I think this is a pretty fair observation.

It is part of the rhetoric behind Spahr's journal Chain, which espouses "documentary poetry."

(And as I pointed out to you a while back, Spahr's book is incredibly influenced by Inger Christensen, whose work is incredibly Wittgensteinian.)

The problem is of course that "facts" are always saturated with ideology. There is no easy out. And that's why a reader - such as myself - may suspect that Spahr would perhaps feel OK about Clintonian style governing-- in that it represents the non-Bush, pre-9/11 'normal' that we would still live in had we known all the 'facts'. That doesn't seem like a bizarre conclusion.

I haven't read Spahr's autobiographical prose, but I have read her criticism, and it is fairly utopian in its claims for experimental writing.

Spahr's rhetoric reminds me a great deal of the folk movement of the 1960s - "when we were good" as one book called that era. We were never good.

I would also add that I think that James' reading of Spahr is actually more perceptive - and even complimentary - than readings by many of her outright adorers. He made me want to go back and reread the book (and one Swedish poet who had never heard of Spahr told me the article made her interested in reading the book).

I have to wonder why you picked up on the Clinton statement - This parenthetical remark is hardly the crux of his argument.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Johannes,

I picked up on the Clinton statement because in a certain bizarre world (sorry that word again!) calling someone a liberal is like dropping the f-bomb. It just sticks out, and I just can't read the article as complementary at all. (I've experienced worse, Josh Clover called me a libertarian in a private flamewar before we kissed and made up.)

But let's talk about the larger point, which is the linking of Spahr to Wittgenstein. Personally, I think the direct link to Christensen you've shown me is really what's going on -- I don't think Spahr is trying to be Wittgensteinian.

In fact, the whole use of Wittgenstein kind of freaks me out. Certaintly James is not talking about the Investigations Wittgenstein, he must be talking about the Tractatus Wittgenstein. The only link between Spahr (or Christensen) and the Tractatus that I see is that "both kind of look like lists and have a weirdly naieve and stuttery feel."

That's not much to go on. I mean, Spahr also sounds a lot like the compiler errors I am getting right now. Does that make Spahr answerable to FORTRAN?

I guess I want to challenge your (James'?) demand that ideology take a very certain form. Spahr likes facts, for sure, but I think you're taking the fact-value collapse too far.

I find myself saying this to people in the poetry world too often for it to be a coincidence, but just because you can't draw a firm boundary doesn't mean distinctions don't exist. Just because some things we thought were facts turned out to be highly observer-dependent, doesn't mean that all of them are.

There's no question that Lara Glenum and Juliana Spahr are doing very different things. In the end, that's the basic problem with James' essay -- that causes him to blur all sorts of distinctions and say bizarre things about the "New Age". He thinks by misreading Spahr he can bring out Glenum better.

7:05 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Well, I think in my entry - rereading it - I somewhat exagerate Spahr. I do think she is aware that this factiness creates estrangement in itself.

The strange part for me about both you and Brent picked up on things that are not the core of the article (Spahr, langpo). The most valuable part of the article I think is James' fine analysis of the Deleuzian poetics of Lara, Ariana and Daniel. It seems you agree with me about that.

5:28 AM  

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