Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Something that I find unsatisfactory about a lot of poetry from all kinds of persuasions: the idea that poetry offers a safe, ethical place outside of ideology, an escape.

I think of Zizek's comparison of Mash and Full Metal Jacket, where the ironic soldier who is critical of the military but nontheless kill is in fact the successfully trained soldier. While the soldier who fully identifies with the horrible superego drill commander kills the commander and himself, and is thus not the successfully trained soldier.

This has something to do with why I like "Chicks dig war" or Chelsea Minnis. There is something horrific about Minnis's over-identified speaker who soullessly buys and kills.


Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

Poetry is something to escape from!

8:40 AM  
Blogger UCOP Killer said...

This is right, of course, Johannes. There's no outside to ideology.

At the same time, I don't have much taste for Zizek's conception of over-identification; it just seems like a retread of various pomo ideas of ironic scare-quoting or "blank parody" with very little traction. Which is funny given his hostility to such things.

Just because there's no outside to ideology, doesn't mean a stance of complacency or "over"-complacency or indifference or passivity is the only critical stance. In Althusser, from whom Zizek gets this idea largely, it meant just the opposite. I think Zizek's fatalism is the kind of thing that happens to academics who are removed from any kind of social movement. . .

8:52 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


To some extent this is a valid concern. However, I don't think Zizek is arguing for complacency - I think he sticks to Althusser here. That's why the Mash guys are the perfectly trained soldiers. They're ironic but they do their duty.

This of course goes back to your AY essay in some ways.

I should also mention that I see very much my own writing as part of this dynamic/problem/issue.

9:40 AM  
Blogger UCOP Killer said...

Yeah, I think these things have to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

I mean, I *do* think Stephen Colbert is kind of brilliant, and has probably done a great deal of good.

11:02 AM  
Blogger UCOP Killer said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:12 AM  
Blogger UCOP Killer said...

Last comment erased. It wasn't very nice!

11:28 AM  
Blogger UCOP Killer said...

OK, well here's what I wanted to add, modulated a bit.

There does seem to be a form of "over-identification" that's really just smokescreen, in which, in order to forestall potential criticism, the person tries to convince you that the trait they are displaying is only worn ironically or self-consciously, in order to ward off any criticism. I feel that that this is the case with, say, the shallowness and self-indulgence of Tao Lin's poetry. And I actually prefer my shallowness without a heaping dose of self-consciousness to help it go down.

Zizek knows as well as anyone that the best way to escape criticism that you're really an asshole is to admit up front, and with sufficient wit, that you're an asshole! See, for instance, the following question and his answer from his recent Guardian interview:

What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?

A mask of myself on my face, so people would think I am not myself but someone pretending to be me.

5:05 PM  
Blogger Matt Walker said...

I don't understand why self-indulgence gets such a bad rap. (I'm not even sure I agree that he's self-indulgent, but he's not shallow, not really.)

I have a quote written in the front page of my current notebook: "If I don't indulge myself, who will?" The quote is by me.

10:46 PM  
Blogger UCOP Killer said...


Just to be clear, I don't mind self-indulgence (or shallowness) either. Sometimes I quite like these traits in a writer. But it's the attempt to disown these things, to put them in ironic scarequotes, that I find irksome.


7:24 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I'm not sure why you keep mentioning irony, when in fact my original post says that the reason I like Minnis etc is that it's not ironic. I don't think Tao is ironic.

7:46 AM  
Blogger UCOP Killer said...

Well, a soldier who, because of his super-identification with his commander, eventually goes crazy and kills him is, in fact, by definition, ironic. It's what usually gets called "irony of fate." It's a situational, not a verbal irony. . . It's close to dramatic irony.

I think the characterizations apply to Tao Lin, and to Minnis too--where it's a kind of blank irony--but it would take a more extensive post to demonstrate what I'm getting at. That is, it would take a little bit of that dreaded "close reading."

8:45 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Johannes, i don't know if you saw the review of "Bad Bad" by Publishers Weekly (you can read it on the Amazon.com page that sells the book): their (anonymous)reviewer deprecates and disparages Minnis,
and to add insult to injury
tops off his review by comparing her work to that of an egregious poet whom no one wants to be mentioned in the same breath with (well you have to read it to see how libelous it is——)

8:04 AM  
Blogger Ted Burke said...

Poetry is something to escape through, a tunnel from one place to another. Thinking that poetry is that place itself, the Lacanian "real" that is lost to all of us, is like stopping in the middle of the stairs as an end in itself. You get nowhere that's useful, unless you're sitting next to someone who thinks talking about stairs and their various qualities suffices for a day's subject matter. The place to where poetry allows us to escape, however, has no geographic location an is namelesss; it is something akin to a heightened sense of extraordiarily weird life will seem if one insists on locating safe havens and resting places for the troubled , contradiction grasping intellect. Poetry is more process than psychic space or state; it's a rigor that enables you to come up against things, in themselves, that will not yield their essences and remain sane as you look for the parking space, fix lunch, return phone calls, check your bank balances. It keeps moving forward without thinking of straight lines.

1:07 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I never said that poetry was about the Lacanian "Real," which afterall is an impossibility.

7:13 AM  
Blogger Ted Burke said...

I didn't say you uttered such a thing. I was agreeing with what your topic sentence. The attaining of Lacan's absent 'real' is an impossibility, of course, but the desire to get to it persists all the same. A good many readers address poetry like it were some prime real estate with it's own usurping laws of the universe where all voids, gaps and other measures of imbalance are modulated; I think otherwise, considering poetry as process. It is the vehicle to another place, whatever that might be, but it is not the place itself.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Oh, I see. I must have been in defensive mode.

10:05 AM  

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