Friday, June 06, 2008


I am back in the US after spending some time in Gent and Brussels. In Gent I gave a paper at an interesting conference on European avant-garde art/literature.

For me maybe the most interesting part was how controversial my paper proved. From the moment I came to the conference people approached me and said "are you the person who is presenting on Dada Helsinki". People wanting to know if I was Swedish or Finnish or American etc. I had no idea it would be so controversial. The main point of controversy was the fact that Björling/Parland are not generally referred to as "Dada Helsinki" - or even as their own movement - but a part of "Finland Swedish Modernism." And it seemed I stepped on some toes by suggesting they deserved their own movement and that they were part of Dadaism. There was apparently also some element of turf defense going on.

But the paper went over very well. I was immediately approached by people who wanted to put it in books and people who wanted me to come to their universities and conferences and give papers. So that was good. Looks like I'm going to Helsinki twice this fall. Some people approached me afterwards and expressed skepticism as well. One prominent Finnish scholar told me to leave Parland/Björling alone because they didn't deserve the attention and they were "embarrassing". He gave a talk about Tzara and Marinetti so I can't see where he was coming from...

But I did have a great time and I befriended and drank a great deal of wine with Tom Sandqvist, who wrote one of the most important books on Dadaism, "Dada East" (MIT, 2006), which traces the Romanian roots of Dada back to Jewish/Romanian folk culture as well as avant-garde journals from Romania in the 1910s. Turns out he's a Finland Swede as well and he's working on a very interesting project involving the recovery of various forgotten east european avant-garde movements of the 10s and 20s. He gave a paper on Judaism and the historical avant-garde.

A young Swedish scholar named Julia Tidigs gave a Deleuzian reading of Elmer Diktonius, another member of Finland Swedish Modernism. We hung out with her a lot as well. She's also a big fan of Aase Berg and Eva Stina Byggmästar, so we had a lot in common.

There were a lot of interesting papers. Jed Rasula gave a talk about Apollinaire that was similar to my reading of Parland - Apollinaire as a kind of icon of modernity. The issue of High Modernism and "the avant-garde" runs throughout a lot of the conflicts at the conference. Most people still can't see the difference between these two modes (I'm reading Barrett Watten's "Constructivist Moment" right now and he equates the two).

Perhaps this conflict is encapsulated in a brief discussion following Jed's paper. Charles Altieri - who had presented basically close readings of Pisarro, Cezanne and (of course) Wallace Stevens (an absolutely un-avant-garde poet!) for his paper - asked Jed why he didn't include any close readings (at least this is what I think he asked) of the formal experiments of Apollinaire and his pal. Jed replied that he was developing a consciously "superficial" reading of these writers and artists - one that has more to do with "lifestyle" than close readings (it helps to have read Jed's great work on "jazzbandism"). And I think there you have the read distinction. Altieri is obviously very smart etc, but based on his paper, his comments on Jed's paper and a few things I've read of his here and there, I think he makes a very good example of someone who approaches literature from a "high modernist" perspective - he needed the close reading, and I suspect that he needs art/poetry that you can give a close reading of. To me his close-reading style was stifling. I felt he was holding my eyes to these paintings, trying to give me the right "reading."

Anyway, I learned a lot of interesting things and I'll post some more over the next few days. I've got to write a few more papers and such (which takes me an inordinate amount of time, scholarly work does not come easy to me) so maybe not a lot will be written. But I would like to start writing more on here about new books. I've read a lot of interesting new work over the past few months, Ariana Reines' new book, Klaussnik, Jason Appleman, and a whole bunch of chapbooks.


Blogger Cameron said...

Perhaps its time to stop equating art movements with modes of criticism? People still have problems separating the two.

8:06 PM  

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