Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"The Real"

Ted Burke makes a good point below that bears repeating: In the Lacanian model, "the real" cannot be captured in words. It is that which cannot be absorbed by the Symbolic Order. "The traumatic kernel" that needs to be covered over with fantasies.

And yet I've seen a lot of people using the idea of the real to describe their favorite poets. It feels like these poets capture "the real." I think this is probably just a fantasy of the de-ideologicalized moment, a very traditional notion of the lyrical moment. In some ways it seems to be a fantasy that in fact makes "the real" less terrible, makes it nice and pretty.

If we say something is "real" then it doesn't have to do anything else. It's just real. Of course, there's a lot of politics involved in claiming anything as real. The thing that perhaps most annoyed me about the Mark Halliday article was this idea that he knew what was real and Clover was not concerned with real-ness.

This is an argument gets repeated over and over: That somehow "quietist" poetry is "real" and "experimental" poetry is somehow superfluous.

I never understood those quietist narratives about fishing with one's dad or grampa. They never struck me as real!

Now this may be because when I was a kid my dad was in jail in Poland and/or helping the Croatian underground overthrow Tito, or quite simply because we certainly never went fishing. Or because my grampa probably said about 3 sentences to me his whole life - when he died I took his Strindberg library from 1908 and a suit (because my grampa was the most stylish person I've ever met) - was that "real" or was that too close to that awful "lettrist jacket"?

The quietist lyric always struck me as extremely strange and posed. And that feeling has been reinforced by most of my pedagogical encounters with this stance: it's all about reigning in and controlling, all about a strange fear of excess (usually coming from images or extravagant language that is not "earned"), about trying to control what is "real."


Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

Well, like I said, it's mostly attempting to homogenize and define for the sake of everything being "understood." Doesn't this go back to the issue of "difficulty" in poems? If there's something you can codify within a text and abstraction can be removed, then people feel as though they're really getting somewhere. People want to understand and when they cannot, it is dismissed as "experimental" or a dozen other things (I think I just posted on this myself).

9:41 AM  
Blogger Max said...

Well, anybody who would praise any text simply because it's "real" or "realistic" (implying that these are inherently positive values that all texts should embody) is stupid in the first place. At the same time, though, I don't see anything wrong with praising how a text achieves its apparently goal, if in fact that goal is to create something that gives the effect of "realism."

I'm not quite certain that creating a "realistic" text is always this hyperpolitical decision of the artist to falsely reduce, compartmentalize, idealize the world, etc. It seems to me that a person could be conscious of the fact that he/she was creating something "realistic" without believing in the illusion or necessarily perpetuating the idea that this illusion is an inherently valuable thing.

12:07 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I think what you mean when you say "real" in the language-game (to get all Wittg. on you) that you're playing is different from what they mean when the say "real" in the different language-game that they're playing.

I assume their meaning of "real" is something like "evocative of remembered experience"; they value the evocation; but also: their memories (all our memories?) might be in fact "extremely strange and posed"; this may be why you (we) (but not them) are (maybe?) less interested in a poetry that tries to recreate them.

10:44 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

You're right I kind of conflated two issues here.

7:02 AM  

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