Friday, August 15, 2008

Jasper Bernes misreading me

That's a very good post over there on Belladodie by someone brilliant named David. And I think it's really worth reading the entire thing. He says some of the same things I've been saying (though his insights are more articulate and astute) about the position of "Gothic" as feminine and mass culture etc on this blog.

I found Jasper Bernes's following characterization of my ideas erroneous:

"... I wasn't privileging "refinement" over "baseness," merely pointing out that they often exist within each other as within a suspension, and that they shouldn't be seen as pure oppositions, which is too often the way that certain contemporary theorizations of the grotesque cast it (Johannes Gorranson's, for instance). . .It's only a measure of our reified cultural moment that people see these things as opposites."

I don't believe in such a simplistic binary split.

Let me remind you that I criticized Jasper's pal Josh Corey for calling Ariana's poetry "angry nakedness" (and I referred to this out again not so long ago - Jasper reminded me then that I was supposed to be referring to Corey, not Clover, which I had written - meaning he had to have read that post!). My point then was that Josh made a too simple split between refinement and "raw" expression.

If anything I have tried to show how things which may seem to be mere baseness etc are often part of sophisticated artistic strategies. In fact I am almost finished with a paper that does that.

Unless by refinement, you mean "Refinement," dull conventional high culture. Yeah, I've been pretty persistently opposed to that.


Blogger UCOP Killer said...

I don't know, Johannes, I think you do a perfectly good job of misreading yourself here, seeing that the post you're referring to had to do with Josh's remarks on Tina Celona (not Ariana) and the appellation "valley girl." I just read the post again (and all of your comments in the thread) and you didn't say anything about refinement vs. rawness. In fact, you didn't mention Ariana. Errors upon errors! For those who are following along at home, it's here:

Perhaps I'm wrong to think this, but you often strike me as, frankly, binaristic in your thinking about the grotesque (among other things), holding it up against some bugaboo of one sort or another, usually "elegance" or "monoglossia" or another suitably under-determined concept like that. There's a place for black-and-white thinking, but just as often as not, I end up questioning the way you dice things.

9:31 PM  
Blogger Max said...

It also begs the question: what is the real value of this subversive or oppositional act (taking part of the grotesque/gurlesque)? I often hear people praising ideological poetry, but I'm never quite certain what this poetry ever accomplishes, other than perhaps a dubious sense of accomplishment in the author.

12:12 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


Well, I guess you'll just go on thinking that, and that's fine. Meanwhile, thanks for reading my blog so closely.

To clarify (and repeat myself), I'm opposed to Josh's notion Ariana and Tina's poetry is somehow non-artificial - back to the old dull binary the raw ("nakedly angry")vs the cooked. A very boring framework for understanding poetry-- on that you and I seem to agree.

Reading your entry in that thread, you seem to think that the "elegance" I'm opposed to is some kind of stylistic quality - ie well-written sentences or some such; that I'm for some kind of Bukowski-like style.

That's not the case.

Most of my favorite writers - Genet for example - write in amazingly "elegant" sentences - so elegant they are postively perverse. Joyelle is another example of this. Parts of both Dear Ra and Quarantine are rewrites of sentences from Bataille, Barthes and Genet, picked for their perverse complexity.

However, I don't think they fit into contemporary American Poetry's idea of "elegance" which is most of all a way of thinking about poetry and how to "appreciate" it, and which strikes me mostly as a way of maintaining an idea of "balance" and to keep out excess, thus an idea of a central language etc.

Also coming into play is the phrase 'school of elegance', because I see this ideal of 'elegance' used as a pedagogical control, the stick as well as the mealy, dried out carrot. And it seems to me that most poetry criticism is in fact pedagogical in tone and mission when it gets right down to it, though that's another post. (See Mark Halliday's Clover-job.)

As for my thinking about the grotesque, it is hardly original. The only original thing I've done with that is apply some of the ideas to contemporary writers like Aase and Lara. A lot of that comes out of Deleuze and Guattari, Bakhtin and various contemporary Feminist writers.

7:09 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I'm working under the assumption that politics is not something poetry can chose to or not to take part in. It's already political. That doesn't mean it's politically efficacious! I also don't like the assumption that beauty is not political.

7:51 AM  
Blogger Max said...

Johannes --

If poetry isn't politically efficacious, then it may as well not be political in the first place. Same difference.

What I'm saying is that none of these theories and styles we fight over all day mean anything to anybody other than the aspirational crowd of wannabe academics. I hate how poetry is surrounded with this aura of necessity, even moreso than other types of literature. Like poetry is this thing which must be defended and perpetuated at all costs, lest the world tumble into oblivion. And it's not just conservative, traditional poets I see making this argument. It's a myth that seems to hold sway across most theoretical boundaries. What do you think about this?

I think poetry is probably one of the least necessary things on the planet, and that it has basically zero power to accomplish anything in the real world. This, of course, doesn't make writing a completely useless enterprise. But let's call it what it is: a device we can use to amuse ourselves and others in various ways. Fighting about how this should be done, as if it even matters in the first place, is just absurd.

10:27 AM  
Blogger Lara Glenum said...

Nope, it really was "angry nakedness." Josh Corey said of both Celona and Reines: "Above all I am impressed by their vulnerability, their angry nakedness."

6:08 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

Johannes -

I also agree that misapplying Levi-Strauss leads to the entrenched we-they bridge tally view of literature. But isn't a debate with a difference more interesting than one without?

Just riffing extraneously on an aside like the internet told me to,

6:19 AM  

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