Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Rauan Klassnik (or "Ethics is the new craft")

[Instead of attacking poor Mark Halliday I'm going to start doing some brief reviews of recent books I've liked.]

Here's an excerpt from Mark Wallace's essay on Rimbaud that I quoted on this blog a while back:

"I want to be clear that I don't admire Rimbaud. He's not worthy of it. But what could be more boring than admiring a poet, than admiring poetry? To say one loves A Season in Hell misses the point that the book and its author dont' want to be loved. But at the same time that the book and author can't be admired, it seems to me that the book's excess suggests much about what contemporary American poetry needs, trapped as it is in discourse about the constructive, the useful, the communal, the fair - all the things I believe in."

I'm sick of ethics. As I said earlier on this blog, the attempt to control the perceived immoral excess of art is something the Buffalo-ists and the Quietists have in common.

(It was interesting for me to read Reginald Sheppherd accuse "the avant-garde" of being puritanical - which when applied to some of them, particularly the Minimalists of the 1960s is true - because what could be more puritanical than his own New Critical tradition, which railed against the "excesses" of the 1920s avant-garde.)

This is just a way to introduce a wonderful new book by Rauan Klassnik called "Holy Land" (Black Ocean, 2008). It's a series of "lazy" and "unethical" prose poems. I love the feeling of poems being written in prose out of laziness, not out of some kind of formal consideration.

I am reminded of American Surrealist Franklin Rosemount's statement in "Morning of a Machine Gun" (1969): "The poems and drawings in this book could be said to constitute a veritable triumph of hte most arrogant laziness and irresponsibility... They are an insult to the dignity of honest toil... But understand that this laziness, this irresponsibility comprises a magical sense of violence and a violent sense of magic which promises to leave no stone unturned - or unhurled if necessary - in a desperate quest to restore man to a liveable destiny."

That last part about destiny does kind of ruin Rosemont's quote with Breton's ethics. as I frequently say, the most interesting Surrealists worked outside Breton's club - the Documents group, Bataille, Artaud, Leiris. And it's in this group that Klassnik's lazy Surrealism has its roots.

Here's a good quote by Susan Sontag on Leiris: "Leiris is not trying to understand himself. Neither has he written Manhood to be forgiven, or to be loved. Leiris writes to appall..."

OK, here's an actual poem from Holy Land:

It doesn't matter how much you want to stay inside, make love and float in a bath all day long the world knows what you want, and it knows what you need. It brings you bodies. And it brings you a gun.

As always, buy the book at SPD. It will do your body good.


Blogger mark wallace said...

Thanks for the quote, Johannes. I'm a big fan of Michaux too, so I look forward to getting around to reading Klassnik. I'm sure you've read A Barbarian In Asia though too, yes? I'm always wondering if anybody has ever written on that book in a way that gets beyond either celebrating its modernism or critiquing its orientalism. It's a weird book that I don't have a handle on; he's calling himself uncivilized, after all, even while his depictions of Asian civilization aren't always so nuanced.

I'm sick of ethics too. But really, what I mean by that, and what you may also mean, maybe, is that what can make one sick is the narrowness through which many people assert an ethics, the way the idea of an ethics can quickly become the establishment of a norm from which art works, and people, are too easily judged as unethical, excessive, etc. In other words--and here's the ambiguity--how assertions of ethics so often turn out to retain unethical elements, and most centrally in their assertion of normative standards. So in that passage, I do believe in the things I say I believe in, but what concerns me is how often they're applied too narrowly and judgmentally. But of course, trying to define a larger, more inclusive standard of ethics would still confront the same limit problem.

It's enough to make you sick.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...



9:01 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The comments on ethics resonated with my experience of moving to Oakland, CA in 1985 and discovering political correctness. Intolerance of intolerance is still intolerance and just as ugly.

1:48 PM  

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