Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Here are some quick responses to Lorraine's comment about indeterminacy:

* Lorraine says that "indeterminacy does promote active readers." I don't think this is fundamentally true. Only metaphorically. Perhaps we could venture that if faced with poems that are unfamiliar, readers are forced to work harder. Or not. It's rhetoric but it's not necessarily true.

* My idea of the artistic experience has much more to do with the "cruelty" of Genet and Artaud.

* When I wrote about "noise" a while back, some people thought I was talking about language poetry or whatever, and I wrote that that is not at all what I was writing about. The noise I am interested in is the dynamic of translation or Deleuze and Guattari's notion of a "minor" literature. What happens when languages interact. I see "indeterminacy" as purified noise, the opposite of minor lit or the foreignization of translation.

* One important moment for such writing in American poetry is of course the 1960s - with Rothenberg, Bly, O'Hara etc all interacting with foreign literature and often with the very act of translation. Perhaps the most interesting and/or important figure from this point of view is Ashbery, who lives in France, translates texts (and writes about visual art) and writes under the influence of various European avant-garde movements.

* I may be wrong about this: But does Perloff ever talk about the act of translation in "Poetics of Indeterminacy"? I think it's good that she shows foreign roots of American poets (rimbaud-Ashbery), but I think it's important to see Ashbery as a "translator" as well as poet, as a figure who brings in other languages into American poetry, who deforms the American English.

* Perloff's "indeterminacy" to me purifies Ashbery, turns it into "undecidability", somethign much cleaner, less foreign. It seems to me that "indeterminacy" as a concept generally leaves out translation. That's a key point. In Perloff's formulation it becomes a language game.

* Ron Silliman comes up with these huge ludicrous genealogies of American Poetry. And where is the foreign? He has one lineage of poetry that come from unknown "quietists" reaching back to the 19th century and another that comes through the heroic New American Poetry (who as a whole were absolutely influenced by foreign writers, but nevermind that Silliman). THis is of course part of Silliman's aesthetic which is very anxious about the foreign - it makes things too messy, too "soft" for Ron.

* Gurlesque for me is about the Death Drive, about jouissance, about critiquing "The Child". Part of what I love about Lara or Chelsey Minnis is that it's not "indeterminacy"! It's not poetry for languishing around in. It's not "democratic."


Blogger Chris said...

Re: Ashbery -- Why is translation so important here? Why wouldn't reading the works and then writing his own poetry, influenced on those works, be enough? Obviously translation is a good way to basically do just that, but still, translation qua translation seems secondary here.

7:15 PM  
Blogger François Luong said...

Trying to locate that issue of jubilat where Ashbery talks about how Reverdy has influenced him. Ashbery has also translated Reverdy, among other poets. I keep being surprised at finding journals featuring Ashbery's translations from French.

8:22 PM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

Chris: I think the issue with translation is that through translation you can immediately see the influence upon the subject- a kind of scope. Translation isn't secondary, certainly, though I can understand that there seems to be a disconnect in terms of influence. I think Johannes' point hinges more on the expression of direct influence from sources beyond Ron's American lineage. I believe that the desire to translate a text into your "mother tongue" is natural and the importance here is that Ashbery, etc. were moved enough to work through the translation process.

7:34 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I'm using translation as a somewhat wider word: I'm saying that his poems are "translations" 'in the sense of bringing in other languages to bear on English.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Chris said...


If you've always been using translation in that sense, then I retract most of the persnickety comments I've ever posted here!

7:49 AM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

1. He does almost always use translation.

2. 5 points for "persnickety."

8:17 AM  
Blogger Jordan said...

When Ron critiqued my blind history of the New York School, he took issue with my internationalizing their reading. But it wasn't just a pose, they really were reading everything congenial they could find, customs be damned.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Yes, that's a crazy criticism! BUt then Ron is allergic to the foreign.

3:35 PM  
Blogger K. Lorraine Graham said...

Hi Johannes, thanks for this response and your thoughts, as always.

I really love your idea of noise. One day I will say something articulate about why.

I said "In, general indeterminacy does promote active readers." I don't think I said that that was fundamentally true. Hell, I don't really think anything is fundamentally true. I could revise and say that "Indeterminacy can promote active readers." So can other things. But throwing out indeterminacy seems about as useless now, as say, throwing out narrative. However, we are, perhaps, talking at cross purposes. Marjorie Perloff's version of LanPo and indeterminacy is pretty limited, and I admit I'm tempted to say immature, insulting things about the term "indeterminacy" in the first place--it's not the framework through which I learned about avant-garde writing or langpo. I'm not sure she does talk about translation. There's a lot she doesn't talk about. Read what the Language poets write about their own work (I find it more fun and interesting) and ignore Perloff for a while. Silliman's geneologies of avant-garde poetry are, yes, ridiculous, but so are Perloff's. Geneologies have the same problems that anthologies have, and they're helpful for the same reasons, etc.

I suppose that I'm not that interested in artistic experience--or at least not artistic experience separated from, well, anything.

I'm pro death drive. Yay, death drive! But I don't want the death drive aesthetically separated from the social world, politics, and syntax.

7:13 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Lorraine (and Mark):

Can you please stop assuming I haven't read what the language poets have written about their own work. My PhD advisor was Jed Rasula, who wrote for the original language journal. I studied with Lyn. I have read a lot of language poetry and a lot of what they've written about their work.

However, I think Perloff's books are actually more influential on contemporary poets - even on langpoets themselves. (Though I remember reading Lyn's copy of a Perloff essay and she had written vehement critiques in the margins.)

10:34 AM  
Blogger K. Lorraine Graham said...

Hi Johannes,

Please don't assume that Mark and I share the same opinions, or that I am somehow speaking for Mark or posting instead of him, or that I'm just repeating something he said. I mean, a lot of people do assume that, but please don't.

Truly, I didn't mean to offend you. I don't know you well at all, or know everything that you've read or haven't read or who your adviser was or wasn't. That means that what I can respond to is what you talk about on your blog, which is of course only one, very specific and inevitably limited version of you and what you think about. I respond to your posts because they make me think, get excited, and because your blog isn't full of jerks. It's very difficult to read tone on blogs/email, especially from people you don't know. So, I see that my version of energetic, excited engagement came across as annoyingly aggressive. I was probably feeling relaxed and happy when I posted : )

On to actual content: I was responding to what you wrote about in your blog post and what we were discussing, which was indeterminacy and Perloff. You mentioned Genet and Artaud. So, given what you wrote, it seemed to me like your sense of what indeterminacy is came mainly from Perloff. My point was that I think Perloff's version of indeterminacy is limited. You also seem to think it is limited. Ok, so why can't we look to other versions of it, as you seem to in your work and interests?

I use Perloff's version of indeterminacy as a straw horse, too, and I get frustrated with Perloff so frequently being used as a reference point for discussing avant-garde work and Language Poetry in particular.

She's influential, of course. I agree that in some contexts she's more influential on contemporary poets than language poets, although it certainly depends on the context. For a lot of us, Perloff is/was the introduction to a lot of avant-garde work and to theorizing about avant-garde work. But that's only one version. As you've noted, it's limited.

I (genuinely, not sarcastically) don't know if anyone beyond Dodie Bellamy thinks about Julia Kristeva anymore, but Kristeva's version of an "ethical text" and "process" which I've always connected to LangPo's general interest in making form transparent as a way of making a poem a space of shared communicative interaction between author and reader.

It strikes me now, and maybe this is obvious, that Artaud's version of "cruelty" is similar to Kristeva's “process,” this of positing and dissolving meaning and the unity of the subject in order to make visible the way we construct/imagine subjects. Ourselves or readers. Artaud's Theater of Cruelty did aim to make spectators more thoughtful, engaged, and less passive. Didn't he want to (or maybe he did?) put the audience right in the middle, literally, of the performance?

2:02 PM  
Blogger K. Lorraine Graham said...

Oh, dear, that was a long comment.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Sorry for being irritable.

I'll respond to this fine post later.

10:39 AM  

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