Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The English Language and Kitsch

[I received this comment below from Ana Božičević. I thought the comment was really insightful so I'm reposting it as an entry.]

[This is about as good of a response I can imagine to Ron Silliman who again today tried to dismiss the noisy immigrant by arguing that I want to "wish away history." Actually, it's that I think Ron's "lineages" are ignoring history and that his model of "structure" is a terribly archaic model.]

[In "The Avant-Garde and Kitsch," Clement Greenberg - whose ideas I think Ron and a lot of "contemporary" American poetry has been influenced by - argues that one of the things kitsch does is cross national borders, wrecking "folk culture" in the process. And isn't the prevalent valorization of "community" in "contemporary" American poetry so often (not always Craig PS!!) based on a dream of the small town, the folk culture, the pre-modern, monolingual, pre-immigrant village?]

[The English language: There is a lot of talk about how English is the most agile language because it has so many influences. I think this is a way to cover up the fact that the English language opens up a very kitschy space: where the colonies(the rest of the world) reworks the imperial language.]

[Anyway, here's Ana's response:]

just wanted to chime in with support for your idea of translation as kitsch, which I think is very valid, not at all tenuous. Objections raised to it actually remind me of this post:
that Amy recently pointed me to.

Warning: digression ahead.)

A commenter wondered how theory-allied poetry examining pop-cultural kitsch & using "girly" tropes can have any sort of relevance outside its own narrow American context. Who "gets" gurlesque and how does it break new ground - didn't female surrealists already mow that lawn? But things get interesting when kitsch consumables (be they Rockers Ken http://www.toplessrobot.com/BarbieRockersKen.jpg or Matryoshka dolls) cross borders and become relics of a childhood's political climate -- eg in the case of the USSR, or of former Yugoslavia (my birthland). Fetishized in the collective memory are a whole Atlantis of kitschy products that are no longer produced and exist as brand names and jingles only. They have even been collected in a Lexicon of Yu-Mythology (http://www.leksikon-yu-mitologije.net/).

Their existence is totally disruptive to (or, if the bottom line demands, commodified by) the emergent neocapitalist national ideologies of ex-Yu countries. What does it mean for these products/words/concepts to be examined from the vantage point of an immigrant, whose whole body, bearing the "made in Yu" stamp, is another such kitsch object? The immigrant's English and even hisher "othered" attempts at translation into English, too full of foreign is-ness to be pleasing to that lineage-conscious American ear, are totally allied with kitsch. This seems so obvious. Johannes, I really look forward to how you develop this idea. It's kind of crucial to me that you do, even.


Blogger Ana Božičević said...

Hey, thanks for posting this, Johannes!

Two notes: 1. a reviewer called that Lexicon a project of "normalnostalgia," nostalgia for a pre-war time when the vibrant poly-culture of former Yu was the one and only, at least for those born into it -- before it was so completely disrupted. Reminds me of the dream of poetry community you talk about -- paralleled, perhaps, to some extent by MFA program culture (perfect, selectively permeable community-pods).

2. 'Q: If you were handed loads of money and were forced to buy yourself an "item of *extreme* luxury," what would you purchase and why?

Bhanu Kapil: I would buy England. I cannot tell you why. It is obvious.'

2:20 PM  
Blogger Phanero Noemikon said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

That's an interesting point. What is an example of a girly blog?


4:08 PM  
Blogger Phanero Noemikon said...



Now that I think about it,
I think I copied Lewis Lacook.

5:02 PM  
Blogger Ana Božičević said...

Would have liked to see the deleted comment -- it escaped me.

7:18 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Yeah, it was a good comment. Put it back!


8:00 AM  
Blogger equivocal said...

Johannes, I'm very intrigued by and interested in what you're developing here, and I think I agree with a lot of what you're formulating--but have a request. When you quote--Silliman, for example, in this and the earlier post on immigrants and kitsch, could you link back to the source? I'm having a hard time understanding the original context for those comments. For instance, I just googled "Ron Silliman" and "wish away history" and I only land back on your blog. cheers--

9:50 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I'll try, but Ron has written a lot of posts and I have read a lot of them... THe "wish away history" was what he accused me of the other day in his list of links.


11:51 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home