Monday, January 19, 2009

More gurlesquerie

I think I should clarify some things.

To me a rejection of "empowerment" is not equal to "powerless", ascetic or some other form of nothingness. In fact the opposite may be power.

The girlhood thing: I don't think of it entirely as a withdrawal from adult society, but perhaps as a violence done to the notion of girlhood. And here Edelson's "No Future" with its call for queers to be on the side of "abortionists" and the "death drive" comes into play for me.

There is a fundamental belief in the social order behind the utopian thinking of the indeterminacy-promotes-active-reader BS. And I can't stand that kind of goody-goodness.

I have to admit: I don't know who the gurlesque poets are. My main ideas come from Danielle, Lara and Lara's writings on the gurlesque and her essay on Aase Berg in the new Action, Yes, and Aaron Kunin's essay on Cathy Wagner (also in the upcoming AY). I know Chelsey Minnis is one of them and Cathy Wagner is another. Elizabeth Treadwell? Her very title "Wardolly" seems ultra-gurlesque to me.

But I know there are several poets that Arielle calls Gurlesque that I am not interested. I can't remember which one.


Blogger K. Lorraine Graham said...

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1:38 PM  
Blogger K. Lorraine Graham said...

(My first version had several confusing typos--hopefully this one doesn't have too many : )

I think throwing the term "empowerment" out of this conversation might make the whole process clearer, it's a broad term with a complicated history. I see how you've been using it to describe a kind of normative pop-Feminist notion of creative-professional-physically fit-motherhood. Fine, but I really can't imagine being interested in any Feminist literature that doesn't engage and critique standardized notions of that femininity. If that's what empowerment is, and that's what the Gurlesque rejects, then that strikes me as being a very basic, common Feminist move. What I mean is that it's old news.

For me, the most interesting writing somehow highlights it constructed nature and in doing so implicates and includes a potential reader in that process. In general, indeterminacy does promote active readers. But it's not the only game you can play, and any innovative technique can become it's own calcified boring set of conventions. Perloff. for example, has a pretty specific notion of what indeterminacy is, and a very specific idea of the people who belong in her indeterminacy cannon.

When I think of indeterminacy, I think of artifice--back to what I said above about interesting writing somehow highlighting the fact that it is constructed. There's a lot of interest in artifice in, for example, Danielle Pafunda's, _My Zorba_, or Laura Glenum's _Hounds of No_. And Aaron's work is interested in social construction and artifice (looking forward to his essay), too. And so is Mark's work. And so is Flarf. I suppose I'm just saying that there's a kind of indeterminacy continuum. You don't have to write like Bruce Andrews to encourage active readers or think about complex socio-economic issues.

1:38 PM

1:40 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I think you are largely right. I am using "indeterminacy" in a kind of strawman capacity. Clearly it also has important ramification. Also, yes to "constructed".

2:55 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

Johannes, I think you and I are on the same page about the Gurlesque aesthetic, but I'd agree with Lorraine about dropping the "empowerment" point unless we're talking about how Gurlesque rejects "empowerment" models in a way specifically different from the standard feminist poetics/practices.

And, if we're going to talk about the relationship to power in Gurlesque, I'd prefer to talk about the actual Gurlesque. Not drift into an argument about what effective feminist practices should look like, when that debate's been going on in fem theory FOREVA. I don't understand what happens in these discussions... Johannes posts explicitly about the Gurlesque, and then comments somehow immediately turn away from the aesthetic, toward whether or not what Johannes has described is a good model for feminist practice in general. And I don't see that the discussants are necessarily familiar with basic feminist concepts--a lot of them seem to be yakking off the cuff. Maybe the discussion will stay more focused on the actual Gurlesque when the anthology comes out...meanwhile, I think from now on I'm only engaging in what makes good feminism discussions with folks who appear to have read some in the field. I'll post my fem. theory syllabus to my own blog when I, um, actually finish building it :).

4:01 PM  
Blogger et said...

I'd *LOVE* it if you'd read my book before passing easy judgment.

Whatev! LOL.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Kate Durbin said...

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3:52 PM  
Blogger Kate Durbin said...

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3:59 PM  
Blogger Kate Durbin said...

I don’t particularly think one should separate the gurlesque from what Danielle calls “feminist practices in general” because, as far as I can tell, gurlesque is, among many other things, consciously problematizing various old and new models of feminism. Also, it seems to be no coincidence that the gurlesque poets are more theory-informed than many earlier feminist poets (Glenum and Reines are both doctoral candidates, I believe), and part of the critique gurlesque enacts seems to be various historical feminist models (which also includes, I would argue, current 90’s based-feminist models of the successful do-it-all career woman with kids). But the beauty of course is that you can read gurlesque and understand these critiques in a visceral, bodily way, without having to go and read D&G or study the history of feminism. This is part of the reason why I think it works so well. It’s not democratic, but it is bodily, and low, as well as being pop-culturally relevant, and intellectually and historically informed. And I would also argue that this is what makes gurlesque different from MOST (though not all) standard feminist practices and poetics.

And Mark, I sympathize with your concern about passivity in the political sphere. I think that’s a legitimate concern, though history has plenty of examples to show the power of “passivity” or more specifically an “active passivity,” such as Ghandi, Christ, Joan of Arc, etc. to disrupt that idea I think—and none of them were pampered American women. I also think you misunderstood what I was trying to say about the power of passivity. Though this old news, what we see as passivity is still very colored by our binary thinking in terms of male=active, female=passive. We don’t create space for a kind of active passivity (or even believe it exists), which is really what I was trying to get at in my quick post last time. Our concept of empowerment is so limited and troubling (and as K. Lorraine points of, the very term is complicated and frustrating, which is part of the trouble). Every woman, if she is honest, I think feels failed by the term. Am I empowered if I go march on Washington? Am I empowered if I get an abortion? If I watch Oprah? I get a doctorate in feminist studies? If I get a doctorate and raise kids and publish a book at the same time and nearly kill myself trying to do-it-all? If I shave my legs, or if I don’t? None of these “activities” of empowerment will empower me; so there must be another option, before we all kill ourselves. I think that other option, which appears in some of the gurlesque writings, is that of the "passive-active."

A writer that comes to mind who fits the mode of the passive-active is Simone Weil, though she may be too along the lines of promoting an “ascetic nothingness” for this argument. But to stick to the gurlesque, Ariana Reines, in particular, promotes a passive activity in The Cow. Take Kraus’ blurb on the back: “[Reines] gives an accurate rendering of what it is to be female, i.e., to be rendered…”] and “the paradoxical girl-state in which disappearance beckons through presence…” If that’s not active passivity, which through “negativity” brings about “complete…alertness…[to a point you can no longer stand” I don’t know what is. The trouble is, it’s hard to talk about this mode, because it is a paradox or at least a seeming one. Its best experienced, I think, and the poetry of the gurlesque poets enacts this (as does Sylvia Plath’s).

Is this all old news? I hope not!

4:26 PM  

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