Sunday, April 27, 2008

The other thing about reading nytimes

is it reminds me of how frustrating it is trying to bring attention to various writers and texts in this culture.

The sophmoric Harvard boys (the role of art is to mirror society by earnestly depicting their privileged prop school romances) at N+1 get articles written about them in NY Times, while we are trying to get some attention to Kim Hyesoon's "Mommy must be a fountain of feathers," a collection of texts that participated and continues to participate in crucial political dissidence (not any less radical than Godard in 1968, and battling a far more repressive system).

This book is especially interesting from a US perspective, not only because that political upheaval had to do with criticizing a US-empowered dictatorship, but also because it totally revises the common slur against Surrealism - that it is somehow extravagant and self-absorbed, frivolous.

Of course, Korea is not as romantic as France.

Of course NY Times was never known for writing a single article on literature that was in any way not conservative.

Of course it is always difficult to get American poets to care about work from other languages/cultures.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


8:02 PM  
Blogger Max said...

I think it's hard to get people to care about poems of any language.

In fact, I've developed this theory that people don't actually like poetry. They merely like one another, and poetry serves as a sufficiently rarefied grounds for determining agreement and/or the fitness of an intellectual relationship. For example, if I were to say that I like Bruce Springsteen, that puts me in a league with millions of other people, many of whom I'd probably not enjoy keeping company with. Liking Paul Verlaine does a far better job of narrowing the field. But I don't really like Paul Verlaine, I just like the kind of person who'd like Paul Verlaine. Ya know?

8:58 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

My problem is that I like Verlaine and Bruce Springsteen but I don't like a lot of people who like either one... Actually I have hardly known anybody else who liked either one so I don't really know. I did go to a Bruce concert once and felt terribly out of place.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

It's hard to get Americans to care for anything that isn't on TV or tangible. If "America's Next Top Poet" were on TV, people would be out talking about poetry. If Oprah put "A New Quarantine..." on her book list, middle-aged house wives would be collecting around the TV to see Johannes interviewed.


11:25 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I don't mean Oprah-level. Come on. I mean poetry level. I don't see either one of you blogging about this book for example.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Why should we be blogging about this book, Johannes?

It may be (and, I think, is) true that it's hard to get exposure for poetry in translation, but at the same time, I don't think that favoring what you favor necessarily implies that you shun everything else.

In any case, I'm never going to blog about poetry because honestly I find doing that incredibly boring. I don't have much of a real stake in most of the arguments that poetry bloggers engage in. Hell, I don't even read much poetry anymore because the vast majority of what I do read is either horrid or uninteresting. I'd much rather blog about music and film.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


You go ahead and blog about your music. I'm not holding a candle to your ass.

I don't quite understand your second paragraph.

I don't think you have to write about Mommy, but I do think you should read it. I would think you'd be interested in perhaps the most significant modern Korean woman poet, who has put Surrealistic methods to critique gender roles and a US-led South Korean dictatorship. I think that would be enough to want to read it.

But frankly your bitterness (about what?) seems to keep you from engagement with poetry.

If you think that most poetry is so crappy you should do something about it. Or just remain bitter and whine about it on my blog.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Max said...

What can one do about crappy poetry, Johannes? Poetry is not its own "world" where the crap might be policed away, and I wouldn't have it like that anyway. I think one thing we CAN do, however, is mock and abuse and those who believe that, just because their arguments about poetry take place in and around academia and are therefore termed "intellectual debates," these arguments are necessarily different in nature than those waged by two people arguing the significance/insignificance of, say, the Backstreet Boys.


7:47 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

The thing you can do about crappy poetry is certainly not to police it (that would be a tough job), but call attention to poetry that you do find interesting, develop critical frameworks for reading that poetry, and engage in discussions that explain to people why you like the poetry you like. It's of course easier to say screw it and be bitter (though I have to say I did that for a long time and it didn't really make me very happy).

12:57 PM  
Blogger Max said...

My idea of how to deal with poetry, or music, or any damned thing, is not to try to convince anybody of the efficacy of a style/aesthetic/whatever. I don't find that to be a very interesting or constructive pastime. I'm not going to mope around because the press isn't covering my favorite book or album or film. What you do--and I think with some artistic media this is easier said that done--is say to people, anybody who will listen, "hey, give this a shot." I think the goal of a critic is not to say "this is what's good about X artistic medium and this is what's bad," but rather to say something along the lines of, "here's what you've seen/heard/read, now give this a chance." People can tell the difference on their own. Maybe they agree with you, maybe they don't, but the hope is that afterward, at least they will know why they agree or disagree.

I think a lot of poetry I read is bunk, but just putting up a blog where I say it's bunk, list the reasons why, and place it against something I find "good" doesn't really appeal to me. Much less discussions about avant-garde vs. formalism or whatever you and others seem to like to talk about all the time. To me, if you tried to have the same argument about contemporary music, it would seem terribly silly and academic, but for some reason this kind of bickering back and forth, taking offense, etc. persists with literary criticism, as though it were all preparation for the eventual fate of books--as bits of material to be discussed in dusty old university classrooms. We should be more interested in exposing each other to new things and less interested in packaging books as ammo for our latest pro-/anti- intellectual, aesthetic, political, etc. debates.

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


Good, Max, that sounds like a fantastic idea.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Dear Package,

1. I am not anonymous. Johannes knows who I am.

2. My problem is that Johannes is ranting about the New York Times and about how nobody's paying any attention to the Hyesoon book, as though (a) knowing about this book is of singular universal importance and (b) we are SUPPOSED to know, at least peripherally, about a book by a Korean poet put out on a small press (by "we" I mean anybody from the average person on the street to big establishment media sources like the NYT). What I'm trying to say is that failure to cover a relatively obscure book (a) may just be a matter of not being aware rather than an active lack of interest and (b) on the other side of the coin, may also connote a completely valid lack of interest, as in the person who purposely doesn't attend a screening of Inland Empire or Lord Of The Rings Part 25. I don't see what's so offensive about people not being interested. If that's the case, just move on and find other people who are. Why should anybody want a write-up or an opinion from an individual or institution that demonstrates time and again (by Johannes's own argument) that it doesn't care about what you're trying to peddle, or constantly looks at it in the worst light?

3. Academic debates about the efficacy of the avant-garde or the inefficacy of formalism bore me absolutely to death. I can't imagine a world without aesthetics that irritate me, because how else does deviation, and therefore experimentation, occur? I embrace that which irritates me because it allows so much to exist.

8:05 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


The hilarious part about this thread is that you - you who are nothing if not ranting and bickering, you who never offer anything save knee-jerk negativity - you are now somehow seeing yourself as Mr Positive, Mr Populist, the guy who says, "guys, here's something cool, try it out." Give me a big big break Max.

I am reminded of the long discussion about Von Trier we had about a year back when you tried to contradict me by constantly changing your position, so that by the end you were arguing diametrically opposed to you own original argument, and in fact largely restating my position.

Which is to say, these discussions with you Max are useless because you are merely interesting in being oppositional for the sake of being oppositional. It's tiresome.

If you're not interested in my entries, don't read my blog. Very simple. But it's strange to me that someone who claims to not be interested in the issues I post on should spend so much time reading and responding to them.

This is my last reply on this thread.

6:32 AM  
Blogger Max said...


I'm very interested in a lot of what you say, which is why I'm sickened that you get so in a bind over bullshit like the New York Times. Criticism of some of your views and ideas, perhaps to your great surprise, doesn't define my entire person. I'm not trying to be Mr. Positivity. I'm trying to argue for non-participation in and non-solicitation of shitty institutions who, by your own admission, treat poetry like crap when they do give it any kind of play on their own terms. Why should you care what the New York Times would have to say about Hyesoon's book if they can't say anything other than the most conservative things about literature? Do you want them to say those things so you can feel all bitter about it and have something to rage against?

Of course, the above argument makes absolutely no sense. I am obviously just trying to push your buttons.

From one silly Swede to another,

7:08 AM  
Blogger Max said...

Also, if you're going to make bold declarations about what occurred in an argument on your blog 3 years ago, you'd do well not to erase said argument from your archives.

9:03 AM  

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