Friday, January 04, 2008


[I wrote this in response to Francois's entry on his blog on "Tourism" in poetry]

Tretheway's case is slightly different, I think, than tourism, having to do with race and the south etc. I haven't read her work, so I can't comment on it.

But I did just go to the big retrospective of Kara Walker's work (She's one of my favorite artists), which suggests a fascinating way of dealing with this dilemma of racist cultural inheritance.

As for tourism, I think it can be interesting, but as you know I see it as a problem in contemporary American poetry, and I blame Wallace Stevens [by which I mean, not the man, but the "authorship"] for that. In Stevens, the "other", the foreigner etc is either threatening chaos (like the sea!) that has to be ordered/tamed, ridiculous figures of inarticulateness - moslems or Swedes (who reappear in many poets up until today!) babbling nonsensically - or exotic tourist trinkets. I think these tropes remain prevalent in contemporary American poetry.

But there's also - in the case of Carolyn Forche and the heaps of poets she has influenced - another option: Europe as an elegy to history (and such people tend to be drawn to Walter Benjamin). That seems equally touristic.

[I should add that I don't think there's a clear-cut line between tourism/voyeurism/decentering etc. And that sometimes tourism is quite interesting. Including Stevens, Forche etc. I think for example of Transtromer's possibly touristic depiction of political injustice (for which he has been criticized).]

[Also, I find Plath's later poetry to be an interesting reply to Steven's fear of otherness - she assumes the kitschy trinkets, the fearsome chaos and the babbling of this otherness. Interestingly she - not Stevens - is the one criticized for tasteless insensitivity.]


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