Saturday, April 04, 2009

Some more thoughts about grotesque hybrids and revolting bodies etc

* I hope Max was the only person who thought I was entering into some kind of counter-criticism of Julie's review. I thought it was a great review. I merely wanted to think about some of the topics she raises.

* I think Julie makes a good connection between the post-human and the grotesque. The grotesque has been scandalous because of the way it unsettles the Christian hierarchies and and the idea of the Human. In particular it has tended to do this through a perceived over-formalism, repetitiveness, shallowness.

* Perhaps the best example I can think of was made by Colbey Reid at a panel I was on: She discussed how HG Wells' "Island of Dr Moreau" described the hybrids there in terms of textiles; and how Matisse caused a scandal with this one picture where the excessive lines makes a woman look similarly textile. Ie its unnatural and shallow. The "human" depth is removed in favor of an obsessive form. Colbey also writes a lot about Mina Loy for obvious reasons.

* I started to talk about American Hybrid again not because Julie's ideas or aesthetics have anything to do with that anthology (in fact Julie's aesthetics are notably missing from that anthology, as I will talk about later; her aesthetics could not be further from Cole's), but because of this rhetoric of the inbetween.

* This rhetoric is also notable in Stephen Burt's new book of criticism/reviews, "Close Call with Nonsense." In that very title, you can see the "hybrid" idea at work. In order to be poetic, the poem needs a bit of disjunction, but it cannot falter into that mythical camps of pure nonsense. Burt's canon is very similar to Cole's: Rae A, Jennifer Moxley and others.

* Mark: Both Cole and Burt like Language Poetry; I didn't mean to give the impression that Cole didn't. They have afterall made the dominant discussion of contemporary poetry a discussion between quietist emotion and language disjunction. Langpo working mainly to make the too simplistic quietism more realistic to a complex world; and quiestism giving langpo some more emotion. That is why Burt calls attention to Jorie Graham as a key figure for contemporary poetry - not just as a poet but as a teacher and taste-maker (perhaps more so for these roles).

* It should be noted what neither Burt nor Swensen seem to have any taste for. Some language poets are apparently not for them: Leslie Scalapino, Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews perhaps most notably. There is of course a reason for this: What does Lyn H, Rae A and Susan Howe have in common that distinguish them from Scalapino, Charles and Andrews? That's a pretty key question/answer.

* Well, enough of Hybrid/Burt. I'm writing a review of them for RainTaxi, which is why it's on my mind.

*One more unrelated thing: "Mainstream" poetry does not sell! Get over it! A few "mainstream" poets sell, but for every Billy Collins there are 100 winner of such and such first book award that doesn't sell any copies despite writing in a supposedly populistic style. So if "mainstream" defines a style, sales is not a good gauge. This despite the fact that this "mainstream" style has received 30 years of utter institutional support.


Blogger mark wallace said...

Thanks for that clarification, Johannes.

Still, the leap from a simplistic making sense/nonsense binary to a direct emotion/complexity binary is no more than slightly better. Both miss the mark by a wide margin. I still find it hard to believe that anyone really thinks the world of writing can be broken down by such simplified binaries--which are, as you say, largely imaginary.

Armantrout, Hejinian and Howe write more conventionally (to a certain degree only) well-crafted poetry than Scalapino and Andrews, who actually have little in common with each other beyond a tendency to expansiveness. Andrews' work contains an purposefully overwhelming degree of violent, emotionally overcharged and political language, whereas Scalapino is more of a phenomenologist who's often trying to collapse the subject/object binary on which much western use of description depends. Her work can be quite an emotional roller coaster in its incredible drive.

Berstein, to my mind, is the most completely poet-critic writer I'm aware of, in that almost all of his poems highlight critical awareness while his criticism contains so many poetic elements. His poems aren't expansive, quite, but often talky and loose. He writes about his childhood and upbringing quite often.

All of which I'm sure you know--I'm just bringing it up to point out how overly simple critical binaries may be marketing tools more than successful critical elaborations. And that a relatively mainstream critic like Burt remains wedded to a notion of craft that seems wrong-headed to me, even as does like a great deal of interesting poetry. Like many critics, maybe, he's probably better at talking about what he does like then he is about what he doesn't.

Just for the record, I've never found anything by Jorie Graham to be other than unbearably pompous. I suppose that's the high art element of the "slightly-imagey" poem education you received at Iowa in action. Maybe someday someone will educate me on what they think is worthwhile about her work? I wouldn't mind receiving such an education because so far I'm just not able to see much there.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Yes, as in any anthology, I think it's largely a matter of finding a broad enough frame to fit in a bunch of poet into the book (which ultimately might just be poems that the editors like and then they have to provide some justification for it).

1:28 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

I'm glad to see a review from Juliet! Esp. the bit about are these monsters or evolutions? Juliet's affection for the book and engagement in the project are clear...Curious to me, the elements that go too far for her seem those lacking formal definition, places where the body of the book itself occupies a muddy grotesque--the seemingly unhealthy hybrid of overblended meat. In these places, grotesque moves from strategy to symptom...from something the author(itative) does to a disease the text's like an autoimmune disorder.

Also, it's likely some beside the point semantics, but wondering what Juliet and Kate quite mean by "academic" and "non-academic." These terms give me shudder, since they're often code for real vs. artificial, or street cred vs. bourgeois, and they almost always serve to mark academe as a static entity, rather than a platform whose qualities are determined by its occupants. Which is not to suggest that's what J. & K. mean, here, but that whatever they mean, this is a valuable piece of property, and I'd just as soon see folks like them staking claim.

11:59 AM  
Blogger Kate Durbin said...

Hi Danielle,

I'm happy to clarify what I meant by non-academic, and I appreciate your critique because I think you are right that using such terms can be dangerous or self-disqualifying. Valid points to make.

I do have pretty intense issues with institutions as a whole (having grown up in the church and church schools and then having gone through an MFA program I felt was trying to "normalize" my work), and with the academy as well. But that doesn't mean I don't think there are a lot of wonderful parasites (redheaded stepchildren) invading the system, or that it's all static and never shifting. Or that we can necessarily escape institutions totally or that this should even be our goal. Not possible. I can see how my comment could suggest that, however. All that said, I can't agree that the academy is an empty platform that is totally determined by its occupants, though I like that idea and wish it were true. That hasn't been the case in my own experience, however.

What I thought was refreshing about Juliet's review--which is very smart--is that it is written in a casual language, and judging by the tone and the fact that she is writing what "popped into her head" (her words), and it is chock-full of "maybes" instead of certainties, it seemed free from certain agendas that I often associate with the academy. I suppose those agendas I would associate with needing to have a great amount of certainty over the "meaning" and "goals" of the text, as well as an intense desire to completely dissect and understand it to therefore control it. I do associate the academy with a certain level of control that I find disturbing, because it has political ramifications in my mind. Perhaps this goes back to the church, actually in particular the theology department at the college I studied at, which essentially dissected the Bible to such a degree so that it would fit to their agendas, and thus losing much of the mystery and complexity of the whole of this intensely visceral, disturbing book. But of course they saw what they were doing in much nobler terms than that--they thought they "understood" the text better than anyone else. I agree with UG Krishnamurti that to "understand" anything to that degree is to control it. In any case, all that to say that I sometime see the same mechanisms at work that I saw at that school in the academy. And they terrify me, though they might seem innocent enough at first glance.

I'm concerned what I'm saying might be misconstrued as being anti-critical, and that's not what I mean. I'm talking about degrees, about leaving space for uncertainty and potentials. I suppose on a deeper level I am talking about humility. All things which aren't really welcome in academic discourse, from my own experience. Even if you say them very sweetly or pepper them in jargon.

In any case, you're also right that this is a side issue, so I will stop there. But thank you for your thoughtful inquiry. I have no idea what Juliet's take is on the "academic" vs. "non-academic", though I'd love to hear more.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

Thanks, Kate, for such thoughtful reply... Ugh, sounds like you've had to wrangle with tiresomely prescriptive departments. My platform metaphor--it's not an "empty" platform, and that's exactly the trouble--crowded with nasties! And not suggesting the platform itself is benign...but who can tell, since it's always occupied. So a crowd of parasites (ha!) working in relation to one another might be able to squeeze out some nice territory.

Anyhow, I don't disagree with you about academia's pitfalls; I'd just prefer we stubbornly assume the academic value of Juliet's mode of inquiry (and at least the potential value of academia itself). Those who disagree can articulate what I'm gonna incautiously wager is a played-out enlightenment stance. Rubrics of greatness, transcendent minds and such. Which I suspect is a far easier way to teach (X is BEST! Y is RIGHT!), and that ease, not time-honored convention, is what we're really working be ungenerously reductive.

To be brief & fair, there're many fantastic scholars promoting concepts of friction, uncertainty, partial realities. I love Donna Haraway's Simians, Cyborgs, & Women for the latter.


3:42 PM  
Blogger Juliet Blood Pudding said...

I just read these latest comments with much interest and might try to say something on my blog in the next few days about my stance on academic v. not-so-academic.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Kate Durbin said...


I'm very much in agreement with all you've said. Thanks for clarifying the platform metaphor--I think you are right that it's crowded, and not in a bad way. All that friction and parasitic infiltration is a good thing--keeps the "body" mutating healthfully...

"I'd just prefer we stubbornly assume the academic value of Juliet's mode of inquiry (and at least the potential value of academia itself)"--point well taken. I must admit to being guilty at times of what you might call terrorist thinking. Which can be both good and bad. Sometimes its good to question the potential value of academia, if only to reaffirm the reasons why these inquiries are so necessary in the first place.

And love Haraway, of course!! And all the other parasites/fringe freaks.


8:25 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home